The Other Me

The Other Me

‘The Lurking Shadow’

A few days after Wolf died, Allie wanted to take me out to cheer me up. I told her I didn’t want to go out if we were just going to thrash out the relationship – again. She told me there wouldn’t be any thrashing but, somehow, that’s exactly what happened – for a couple of hours. And when things were thrashed out with Allie, they were rarely diplomatic. They were heated. Verbally violent, in a way that violence can be passionate. Now, as we argued, my head surged. The next night was little better. There was another argument. I felt my mind tearing in two.

Allie persisted. When she wanted something, she developed tunnel-vision. In some regards, that was a strength. In others – like this – it was a detriment. She just couldn’t take a step back for the moment. Things had to be settled now – and they had to be settled. There was no agreeing to disagree.

Inexplicably, we reconciled. I still held onto what the relationship could be, and didn’t have the experience or wisdom to conclude that it never would. Allie was chasing her dream and hoping it would turn out. I don’t know what I was chasing anymore. Peace, maybe. The hope of something new. A future. I just didn’t know.

Then my shortness of breath came back. My stuff always began with shortness of breath, although I was wiser now. Somewhat. The biggest enemy I had in the past was myself. I’d gulp for breath, make it worse. As I’d begin to hyperventilate, I’d cut off the oxygen to the brain, and that would trigger panic attacks. Then it was a spiral back into everything.

Now, I tried to not gulp. Sometimes, it felt unavoidable, like my breath had locked in my chest and the only way I could unlock it was with a gulp. That I knew this was anxiety and nothing physical – like a heart attack, or emphysema – helped undermine the panic. Then I’d follow up with some self-talk, telling myself I could breathe.

It didn’t always work. Sometimes, I could lose myself in the moment. Other times, I’d read whatever was visible or count backwards in my head using a trick Dr Warren had suggested where I alternated between English and Macedonian. When all else failed, I had a couple of beers.

It’s amazing the pressure somebody can put themself through. One time, my friends and I went to a book launch, and all the way up I worried myself into thinking the shortness of breath would hit, which is what it did. Thanks to all my current techniques, I held an uneasy truce with it.

The attitude that helped most was accepting it. I used to panic I’d have such shortness of breath that I’d pass out. Now, I accepted that if that happened, my autonomic system would kick in and reset, and I’d awake and my breathing would be fine.

Still, I made an impromptu appointment with Dr Jarasinghe and asked him to prescribe me some Xanax. I never took any, but again needed the safety net.

Allie was sympathetic and supportive. Once, she drove me to a cousin’s wedding reception. Another time – during one of those times things were volatile between us – Allie wanted me to come over and I refused to drive in this condition, so she drove me to her house and back.

As things improved between us, so did my condition. That left me to instead obsess about the relationship. I remained wary of Allie, and sometimes I was short-tempered because I thought I saw behaviours that suggested she was reverting. To her credit, she was patient during these times, although she must’ve also realised that her grip on me was tenuous.