Sleeping Wide Awake


When I think about being nineteen, I remember suffering clusters of panic attacks. I remember hospital visits and having far too many meds thrown at me. I remember that first idiot psychiatrist.

And, in remembering all that, I wonder why I had to live that part of my life that way, why I endured such debilitating anxiety while navigating ignorance and contending fears that everything was a precursor to something much, much, much worse.

Behind that are the shards of my teenage development. I could masquerade with peers that I was one of them (and still do), but there were always weird things I never quite understood.

Periods of manic energy were one example, where I talked fast, bounced around, and was much too energetic.

One time, a cousin introduced me to his friends. We goofed around each time we caught up, and did things teenagers did – watched TV, smoked, drank, played football. These remained intermittent friendships – as a teen, you always have your handful of close friends, and then lots of people you might hang with sporadically.

Not long after, somebody else asked me to get them speed. I asked one of my cousin’s friends; knowing he regularly procured dope, I thought he might have contacts. He tried for me but couldn’t get anything (which I was thankful for – this was not a role I appreciated being put me in). Later, my cousin told me his friend thought I wanted the speed for myself, and that he knew I must be taking it given how hyper I could be.

The downers came, too, these bleak periods of melancholy where it felt like I didn’t fit. I was a blot in a sea of life, never understanding my inability to integrate.

This was my normal, and being my normal I never questioned it, never examined it the way I would much later in my life, when anxiety, depression, depersonalization, and all those things drove me to become so self-aware that it was like I stepped outside of myself to examine who I was, how I behaved, and what I wanted, and all I could see were the missteps.

I wonder sometimes, though, about all the mental health stuff that I experienced (and experience) – especially when I was young – and whether it was organic, or something schismed into my head at an early age and caused the fractures that would ravine through the rest of my life.

One strange memory that started popping up in my thirties was this inexplicable nostalgia around certain colours. But they had to be individual colours, like just a bright red, or a lively green, or a rich blue. Even writing about them, I feel like something’s there, something I should know, but which I can’t quite grasp.

The other memory that tails behind those feelings comes from Grade 1 or so, and being in class – I think it was an art class, although maybe that’s my head trying to wrestle some connection, some context, into all this.

The bell went and the other kids charged out. I was staying behind to help clean up or something. The teacher remarked of the other kids (and I remember this verbatim), “They’re so immature.” And I agreed because it felt like such an adult confidence to share. But nothing comes after that.

That’s where that memory ends.