When I woke the next morning, the first thing that ran through my head was a self-check.
It was gone.
After so long being with me, it felt bizarre to have the inside of my head back to myself, to my own thoughts.
I bounced out of bed, sure this was the start of something new – or at least the resumption of the way things had been – although throughout the morning, I noticed hangover effects from the Euhypnos: my mind still half-asleep, thinking a bit jumbled; movement lethargic, sometimes uncoordinated; there was also the smallest cramp in my chest. But it seemed an acceptable trade-off.
That day, I began my second book, only without my usual zeal. There was little there. I was flat. My imagination didn’t motor along at its usual frenzy. Something still wasn’t quite right. There was an unease, like everything hadn’t fallen back into sync – if it ever had been.
As a kid I’d had brief moods of feeling bleak, down, although it didn’t take much to bounce out of it. Other times, I’d been hyper. Some of my cousin Rooka’s friends thought I was taking speed, because I was so energetic. But whatever had been before wasn’t the case now. There was still something a little bit awry.
My cousin had a sixteenth, which I went to. The day was hot, and I dressed in jeans and a baseball top that were stifling. When my brother drove me and another cousin up, one of the tyres shredded, and helping replace it was hot work. Throughout, I felt a catch in my breath.
By the time we arrived at my cousin’s, I was short of breath. Every now and again, I took a deep breath to prove that my breathing was fine. When I felt the breath run all the way down into my diaphragm, I felt assured. See? I’d challenge myself. You can breathe. Everything’s fine. But other times, my breath wouldn’t make it.
With each failure I grew panicked until my breath came in gasps and felt like I couldn’t breathe. My aunt rushed me to the closest hospital (PANCH), where I raced through all the worst-case scenarios, like a heart attack. There were no heart problems in my family, but maybe I had a congenital defect. It could happen. Maybe it was the beginning of emphysema from smoking. Who knew the way the body worked?
While waiting, I mulled over things until I detached, and calm swept over me. By the time the doctor saw me, he explained – as if I’d survived a near-death experience – that I’d hyperventilated, and if it happened again to breathe into a paper bag.
I went home, assured. The writing for my second book wasn’t coming, but feedback for my first book was encouraging, bar the typos. Being the age of the typewriter, the only option was to retype the pages (which would introduce more typos, no doubt) or type the corrections on a blank sheet of paper, then cut and paste them over the original. It seemed to take forever, but it kept me busy.
I should’ve looked for a publisher. That was the next logical step. But a solitary fear crippled me: not that I’d be told my book wasn’t good enough (I was sure it’d be accepted) but dealing with an industry professional, talking to them, having to establish a rapport with them.
It was a sensation that struck me often: put me in a familiar environment with familiar people, and I could operate fine, if not thrive, but most other situations were debilitating, unless I was in one of my hyper moods, or had been drinking (which I was starting to do as a teenager).
Then another thought wormed into my head, one that obsessed me: that I’d not only get Alzheimer’s, but become delusional – maybe think myself rich, and famous (given my ambitions). I wasn’t forgetting things, had always had a good memory, and nothing extraordinary was occurring to me, but I was sure it would. I started reciting a mantra over and over, repeating my name, age, birthdate, and even who I was, just to prove my thinking was fine. Sometimes, I even wrote it out over and over.
Then I developed intense pains in my chest that last weeks. Again, the fear of, Heart problem! I couldn’t assure myself it wasn’t the case when the pain could get so bad it’d drop me to my knees.
I went and saw Dr Persakis. I had no choice. He was an intimidating man, and in the few times my mum had brought me to see him in years gone by, I always got the impression (just my impression, though) that he was concerned I’d become the hypochondriac my mum was, or that I’d develop anxiety and depression as she’d suffered for thirty years, relying on various medications – not that it ever stopped her from doing anything, such as running a household, or working. We did get to see her suffering, though, lying on the couch and martyring herself on her various conditions.
Dr Persakis attached a little heart monitor to my chest – or at least that’s what I thought it was – and measured my heart. I mentioned, as an aside, that I even had the occasional fears I was getting Alzheimer’s. He laughed, as if it was the most absurd proposition in the world, an eighteen-year-old having Alzheimer’s. Then the heart machine spat out some paper and Dr Persakis pronounced me fine.
I left the clinic. The pains in my chest were gone. That’s all it took: assurance. My concerns about Alzheimer’s and delusions were gone, too. They were apparently laughable.
Things were going to be okay.