The one problem with my sphere of comfort was that inside it, time was almost static – at least for me. Things happened, to indicate time was passing: Wolf grew from a puppy to a dog, we all got older, the clock kept ticking, but when you’re inside the world where these things happen, everything moves along almost imperceptibly, or at least in a way where you don’t question it.
It was a lot of work to function in any sort of social capacity. One time, my friend Bruce visited. Bruce had visited so often in the past – I’d known him for over fifteen years. Now, though, my breath grew short, I felt shaky, and the panic started to tick away. I kept telling myself over and over I would be okay. But the anxiety nudged at me, threatening to blow. In the end, I had to excuse myself from Bruce and ask him to go, as I wasn’t feeling too well. Off he went. The symptoms abated.
In any social situation that I previously would’ve enjoyed without a thought, a time bomb now ticked in my head. I tried to talk myself through it, but couldn’t. I refused to take an extra half of Xanax out of stubbornness – I hated medication; if I had to take it, I’d take it as little as possible. Beer was okay as a relaxant (at the time), and even though beer could be considered just another form of medication (or, drinking, another form of medicating), I classified it as something different, because I’d always (as an adult) drank. I hadn’t always taken meds. One was an aberration, an interloper, whose hold I wanted to minimize as much as possible.
Later that year, my friends got into the indoor cricket grand final. I wanted to go watch them. When I saw Dr Jarasinghe that week, he ran me through a desensitization meditation where I imagined myself going. The day of the game, I sat in a chair and psyched myself up to go. It would be easy: jump in the car, and drive somewhere I’ve been hundreds of times before. But the shortness of breath threatened and the ground felt unsteady under my feet. The clock ticked on. The game started. I hadn’t moved. No, that was it. I wasn’t going. Better to stay home, where I was safe. Everything was back to normal.
My friends had planned to take a break from indoor cricket. We’d played a couple of years straight, and they’d played another six or so months without me.. Somewhere along the line, I was meant to have rejoined them. I was meant to get well enough to go out and play once more. After a while, I accepted the impossibility of the prospect. They stopped expecting it. Things remained the way they were – for me, at least.
I accepted I needed to stay in an unthreatening environment, one that wouldn’t trigger the anxiety, which could threaten to trigger another overload. I mightn’t – probably wasn’t – that fragile. But you learn avoidance, like when you touch a hot stove and burn yourself, you learn not to do that again, and you learn that lesson on several fronts: it hurts; you could do serious damage to yourself; it’s just not the thing to do. This is what I learned: don’t do things that could trigger another episode. Stay safe. Safe. Safe …
Everybody else moved on, though. Some of my friends got married during our indoor cricket years, or developed serious relationships. Most moved outside my sphere of comfort. So that was it. They had their lives to lead, I had mine to protect. Stan and I remained friends, as always, and sometimes he’d come over and we’d drink like we used to, although now most of the time he went home to his wife. But this was the world around me. I existed in a timelessness, while the world around me kept on ticking by.
It wasn’t that I was happy to be alone, but it was no longer a case of simply being able to do something, without this overriding concern that I’d freak out, that something would happen. The pressure was always on to keep it together. The moment I tested it, symptoms arose. Even in dreams, it was omnipresent – one time, I dreamed I was meant to go to a picnic, but I told whoever I was meant to going with that I couldn’t forget my Xanax. This fear had taken root all the way into my subconscious.
So the choice was made for me: stay in my sphere of comfort, and do nothing to threaten that collapsing.