I woke in the morning, not sure I’d ever gotten back to sleep, my head pulsing but raw, the way a bad cut feels after it’s been tended. Underneath it, a flightiness, like whatever had filled me last night was a breath from returning. Everything around me was too stark – noises, voices, arguments.
I didn’t tell anybody how I was feeling. I’d never gone to my family with problems. When I broke up with my first girlfriend, when I got bullied in high school, when anything happened, I never told anybody. We weren’t close like that. That was a soap reality, something you’d see on TV. In our house, it just wasn’t done.
I tried to work out what had happened. Perhaps a new hair gel I’d been using was a cause – maybe I’d had an allergic reaction to it. At a party not long after, I met a girl who was studying psychology. We talked, I told her about the gel, she said it was possible. So I showered. And showered. And showered. But still felt the same.
I checked the Yellow Pages for psychologists and psychiatrists. I guessed they’d charge a fortune, but hadn’t anticipated how remote they were. I didn’t drive – never had an interest in getting my license as soon as I turned eighteen – so didn’t know how I’d be able to get to them, if I could afford them. Which I couldn’t.
Maybe whatever this was had a lifespan, like a flu. Maybe I just had to bear through it. Maybe maybe maybe. I trundled through the next several days. The rawness, the panic, the hypersensitivity remained. I lived in terror of it exploding. During the day, I could try distract myself. At night, I dreaded going to bed. The quiet of the night amplified everything I felt. I’d lie there, telling myself over and over, until I recited it in my sleep, Relax. Relax. Relax.
But I also longed for the night, for that moment I drifted off, because that’s the only time I knew peace, as well as the hope that come the morning, all this would be gone, like a headache I could just sleep off.
It remained, though.
I had to see a doctor, albeit not my family GP, Dr Persakis. Despite doctor-patient confidentiality, I feared the connection he had to my family, and I didn’t want anybody knowing what was happening. Whatever was going on was my problem to deal with. To admit it was an acknowledgement that I was broken, and I refused to believe that.
In fact, I couldn’t even go to the same clinic – I couldn’t risk discovery. Instead, I went to one a couple of miles away, which I walked to, trying to burn the nervous energy overloading within me. I took also the gel, still thinking it might be cause of everything.
I explained to the GP, Doctor Cook, what had happened, and then gave him some background – how I’d recently finished my first book, and hadn’t done much since. I asked him if the gel could be responsible. He told me no, and surmised this had happened due to the lack of structure in my days. Once I’d finished my book, I’d lost that. He prescribed me some sleeping pills, Euhypnos, saying that once I felt better rested I’d be able to get on top of things.
I left his office, enthusiastic, if not optimistic. The Euhypnos would take care of the anxiety. I’d take care of the rest.
I had to get back to writing.
I filled the prescription, rushed home, and counted the hours down until I could take a Euhypnos.
It’s amazing what you can get impatient for.
I’d never taken a sleeping pill before. I’d never taken much of anything before. Even after surgery on my broken arm a few years earlier, I’d refused painkillers. The nurses had to demand I take them.
But this is what it had come to: a sleeping pill was my salvation.
Dr Cook had told me to take one – but as many three – Euhypnos half an hour before bed. I took one – if I was going to take medication, I was going to take the least amount possible – and settled back.
Gradually, my body grew heavy. Everything slowed. My mind became quiet, until the anxiety disappeared. I went to bed. There was no worrying about worrying. No telling myself to ‘relax’ over and over. No concern that I couldn’t get to sleep soon.
Nothing but sleep as I slipped away.