(Hey y’all….Before I get too far into this…I understand that nowadays these posts are supposed to come with trigger warnings. So, if you’re not in a space to read about suicide, maybe skip this one.)
Let’s take a quick trip back in time together. You won’t need snacks, because we’re not going far. We’ll rewind just about a year or so, to March 2020, when the nation was just beginning to shut down. With COVID spreading faster than glitter in a preschool craft room, we all found ourselves rapidly removed from our daily hustles. Sports practices and music rehearsals came to a screeching halt, concerts and games were cancelled, and restaurants and bingo halls shuttered for the immediate and undetermined future.
As a result, we were all unceremoniously stuck at home surrounded by nothing but our families – and all our “stuff” – for the very first time in a long time. (And we were all apparently out of toilet paper. But being a resilient species, we got that sorted. Somehow. I’m not gonna ask; I will assume you did what you had to do and we will not speak further of it.)
Anyway. Given virtually no other options, and few exciting new releases on Netflix to distract us, we all started taking a hard look at all of the tchotchkes, objects, collectibles, and other material things we’d chosen to surround ourselves with. And most of us decided we had Too Much Stuff. (I recognize that in the thick of quarantine, many of us determined that we had Too Much Family, too, but that’s fodder for a different post.) Since all the cool hangouts were closed, several of us rolled up our sleeves, channeled our inner Marie Kondos, and cleaned out closets, garages, and attics. Outgrown baby toys? Donated. Clothes that no longer fit (courtesy of boredom and food delivery)? Bag ’em up! We repurposed furniture and packed unused dishes and emptied garages of clutter, clearing out the chaos we could control while weathering out the storms of the chaos we couldn’t.
And we stood back and admired our new, clean, organized spaces, and felt a little bit better.
But sometimes, as we were deciding what to include in our newly organized lives, we hesitated. We might have elected to discard a small box of baby teeth (because now that the “babies” are old enough to drive, vote, and buy lottery tickets, it occurs to us that dislodged human teeth are kind of gross), yet preserved the tiny hospital bracelet and the small blue onesie worn home from the hospital. We could easily part with our kids’ old math worksheets and broken macaroni jewelry, but may have not been able to condemn a first-grader’s family portrait to the recycle bin.
And while we may have finally accepted that we’ll never be a <insert dream size> again, we might store our favorite pair of jeans in the back of the closet for just a little while longer. You know. For the…um…memories?? And because while we’ve relinquished most of the hope that one day, they WILL button, we might be tottering on that fine line between denial and acceptance.
I’ve gone through this reorganization/decluttering exercise a few times here and there – even before COVID made it cool to be minimalist. I find clutter to be stressful – this is probably because my ex-spouse and his family were
hoarders collectors, and after years of being neck-deep in clothes and books, and having a four-car garage too full to park in, I prided myself somewhat on frequently donating items I didn’t immediately need or want.
But after over a year of being at home (and some not-insignificant changes in size), I found it was time to yet again comb through my wardrobe and donate the excess. I reorganized my closets (wardrobe AND linen, thankyouverymuch) and my dresser drawers. And in the middle of sorting my socks, I stumbled upon something I’d forgotten I’d kept.
I pulled out the orange bottle, still sealed with red tape, a bit quizzically at first. Is this medicine? What is this doing in my sock drawer? I read the label and quickly remembered: Back in November of 2017 (shortly after I stopped writing here), I had an outpatient surgical procedure, and as is custom in the US, I was given a parting gift of a few days’ worth of a fairly powerful painkiller. (Specifically, hydrocodone.) After the surgery, and a day-long power nap (aren’t post-procedural naps the best? You can’t work and you can’t clean the house; your job is literally to rest, and with zero immediate stress, you can just melt into your couch and relax. Ahhhhh.), I wasn’t feeling the need for anything stronger than ibuprofen. But I filled the prescription anyway, just in case. I mean, I’m feeling okay now, but things might get worse. I might wake up in a ton of pain. What if I want to take one, and I don’t have it? Better to be prepared and not need it versus wanting it and not having it there. Right?
As it turns out, I recovered quickly and didn’t need the high-powered pain relief. I never cracked the tamper-resistant packaging.
But long after the scars healed, I hung on to that medication. While physically, there was no need to have a controlled substance in my possession, I wasn’t quite ready to go through the motions of disposing of it, because while I didn’t realize it at the time, I wasn’t doing so hot mentally. And while my food issues weren’t quite so prominent at that point, the stacks of anxiety and boxes of unexpressed emotion were accumulating higher and higher. And like any hoarder in denial, I refused to believe that they could topple and fall, crushing me underneath them.
And I’d think, on occasion, things like sometimes the energy it takes to just exist is exhausting. And no, I’m not, like, depressed or anything. I’m just…tired, I guess? And yeah, maybe once in a while, I think that it might be an incredible relief if I just, I dunno, went to sleep and didn’t wake up. Like a post-surgical power nap.
And while these thoughts buzzed around my head from time to time, I could largely swat them away, knowing that I had a contingency plan tucked away between my patterned tights. If things DID get to be too much, that bottle was there. I’d never ACTUALLY take the whole bottle at once, of course. It was just there as…an option. A packed parachute. Break in case of emergency.
The trouble with mental clutter is that it’s really difficult to remove. It’s like trying to refinish a room and preparing to take down the wallpaper only to discover that the dingdong who lived there before you plastered the paper three layers deep, painted over layer two, and super-glued the first layer directly to the drywall. (It’s a universal real estate fact that every handyman who owned your house before you bought it was CLEARLY an A-class idiot.) Fixing the mess is a ton of thankless work, followed by hours and hours of spackling and sanding, and most of us bail out of the project and opt instead for the minimally cosmetically-acceptable solution of textured wallpaper or yet another layer of paint. Sure, it hides the problem instead of fixes it, but it’s sometimes enough where if you hang pictures over the lumpier sections, it’s passable. Until you have a water leak and the whole wall peels and bends, exposing sins straight down to the slats.
Eh, that isn’t going to happen. I only have these thoughts once in a while, and they always pass.
And at first, that was true. It was really only about once a month or so, during the occasional night where sleep was elusive and the hours of darkness spun out in front of me. And then sometimes it’d be during the day as I was driving home from work: I’m tired. If I had a car accident today, I wouldn’t have to go to work tomorrow. And maybe here and there in the middle of the day, perhaps while mowing the lawn. If I mow over a bee nest, I might get stung and die. I’d hate to not be able to breathe, but four minutes isn’t that long….it’d be over soon. And I’d sleep.
And I still have that bottle. If I’m still hurting when I wake up. If things get worse.
If the light never comes.
Just in case.
And then I found myself on an out-of-town trip during the summer of 2018 contemplating the ocean in front of me and wondering if I should wade out until I could no longer see, hear, or feel anything at all. No one would see me go. The roar of the ocean was louder than the screaming inside my head and the lull of the waves could silence it all.
I walked out to the beach and, staring into the endless blackness of the horizon, called the suicide hotline. I’d had it programmed into my phone (which in hindsight I recognize was maybe a bit of a hint that something wasn’t quite right inside my head.) I talked to an absolute sweetheart of a young man who just listened.
And after about a half hour, I hung up and went back to bed.
And while my mental storms didn’t magically blow over right away, I kept living. And some days were pretty good. On other days, I focused on keeping myself moving forward, reminding myself that every sunrise brought a chance to start over. And for the days that proved more challenging, each sunset was a promise that the day was over, for good.
But I kept going. It was the best I could do, but it was more than good enough.
And eventually, I forgot all about that bottle…until last weekend, when it presented as a bit of a surprise. I’ll be honest – I considered stuffing it back into the drawer for a moment. But you don’t need a stockpile of parachutes when you’re no longer flying on airplanes. And this little bottle wasn’t a parachute – it was an anvil. If I pulled the rip cord mid-air, there was nothing to slow my descent.
It was time to kill the contingency plan.
So I opened the bottle, crushed the pills, and mixed them with the used cat litter. I peeled off all the warning labels and dropped the empty container in the recycling.
I didn’t need it anymore.
Well, that’s good. But, if you’re “better”….what the heck is going on with your weight?
Why have you lost so much? Why can’t you eat more?
Aren’t you just leaping slowly?
I suppose I’ve traded in my secret stash for an empty lunch bag, hoping that gliding slowly to earth will soften the blow of the eventual landing.
Pizza isn’t much of a parachute, I guess. But it’s all I have packed on this plane. I don’t know where the oxygen mask is, nor if we’re really crashing anytime soon…or at all.
Right now, I guess I keep gliding through space and time. One foot in front of the other. Checking off the sunsets and trying again with each new day.
It’s the best I can do, and for now, it’ll have to be good enough.