I started this blog about 4 years ago and have been jumping in and out of it like a kid playing in a gigantic mud puddle. My blog title is glib; my description is vague; and the content is all over the place. Splashes of truth on a pretty dress that’s trying to stay clean for the party it believes it’s about to attend. Keeping up appearances has always been vital. ‘I may be a bit quirky, but I’m normal,’ I would think as I shared my words over the internet, as I tried not to sound too elitist/artsy/intellectual/strange/broken/crazy.
So I have this mental illness. Actually, I have a couple, but the one I’ve been dealing with the longest is called Generalized Anxiety Disorder. My entire life has been spent worrying about ideas that sound insignificant, but at the apex of their power have been my gods. I have prayed to them and asked them to please disappear; I have created rituals so they would do just that (“If I make this green light, I do not have cancer.”); I have sacrificed sleep, sanity, my soul for just a tiny bit of peace.
When you live with GAD, your life becomes this morose roulette wheel that’s run by a crooked and nasty con man. It’s the game that never lets you win but you just keep coming back. Instead of red and black numbers, there are different areas of obsession written on the wheel. You give it a spin; release the ball; and await your fate. In the beginning, when you are young, there aren’t many options because, well, your brain is still filling up with horrible stuff to worry about, so the first time I spun the wheel when I was around 3 or 4, it landed on “MEASLES.”
I don’t know how it happened. Maybe I had to get a measles booster at the pediatrician’s office and asked my mother what it was and the idea of spots all over me ignited the fear. Or I overheard a story about an epidemic. Or I didn’t like it when I was itchy. I don’t remember. But I do remember siting in my father’s black recliner with him one Sunday morning as he read the Funnies to me (a favorite Sunday tradition for both of us) and as he was reading “Blondie,” I glanced down at “Andy Capp” to find the old Scotsman covered in red bumps. As soon as my father finished the Blondie panel, I yelled, “I don’t like Andy Capp,” and started to cry. Puzzled, my dad skipped it, turned the page of newsprint, and went on to read “Ziggy.”
A few months later, I was watching Sesame Street. It was a Monday–I know this for certain because the show would always have a theme that ran for the week. It began innocently enough: the Count didn’t feel well and was not in normal OCD mode to count every fucking thing he came into contact with. Throughout the show, in between the pinball machine that counted to 12 and the Alligator King and the Ladybug’s Picnic, the skits on The Street were about the poor Count. He was feeling worse and worse as the show worked its way into the end of the hour. In the last five minutes–oh gentle reader, I’m sure you have guessed his condition by now.
Yup. The Count had the measles. And to make matters worse, he started counting them! Like they were just normal dots on his purple-y face, not lesions of certain death and I felt a cold, white fear run up and down my spinal cord as I plugged my ears, closed my eyes, and felt for the television’s power switch with my elbow. For about a week, I refused to watch Sesame Street and also refused to disclose why. Because if I had told someone, I might have gotten the measles.
This first encounter with GAD ended when my mother actually contracted the measles. I was putting a puzzle together in our living room when my mother yelled from the bathroom, “JERRY?!?! Come here!” My dad jumped up from his chair and ran to her and then I heard what I thought was going to be the beginning of the end,
“I HAVE THE MEASLES!”
I don’t remember exactly how I reacted, but it had to have been quite badly. The next scene I recall is my father sitting on my bed telling me my mother was not going to die. People did not die from the measles (ok, I realize now that this is not true, but for the sake of my four year old marbles, it was true enough).
And with that, the MEASLES pocket on my roulette wheel vanished (it was on the red, for the record). Unfortunately, its disappearance moved me up to gold level player status.
Fast forward 41 years later. I’m sitting in my doctor’s office on Martin Luther King Day When I was in my late 30’s, I took an SSRI for about a year. It was something that was going to be temporary until I found a better job and worked out the kinks of my marriage. I ditched the job and the husband, weened off the pills and things seemed to be going great. (I even got a promotion! And a super cool boyfriend!) Until I woke up that Monday morning and realized I’d spent my entire weekend obsessing over whether I had written down the right time on a parent meeting invitation. The roulette wheel had been silently spinning for a few years until my entire brain was Harrah’s on a Saturday night. And this was my first step toward closing down the casino.