‘The Good Doctor’
I used to wake up and, like most people, would be on autopilot. I’d do whatever there was to do, move through the day, and not have a single thought about it. It was that simple. Now, whenever I woke, there was this thing to greet me, this unease threatening to blow. I was aware of – trapped by – every thought, and they all felt wrong. I wanted to get out of the inside of my head, back on autopilot, but autopilot was broken. All that remained was surviving the moment.
When I woke this morning, I was sure I wouldn’t make it through the day. I’d been battling this for three months, overcoming one thing, then another, and then another. But how long could this last? I was facing an inevitability. What that inevitability was, I had no idea. Every symptom since this had begun was a footstep toward a cliff’s edge overlooking an impenetrable fog. There was a plummet once I stepped off that edge, but into what I didn’t know.
After breakfast, I retreated into the back room to try occupy myself. Computer games. This was how I tried to stay externalised. It was 30 September 1989 – the day of the Victorian Football League Grand Final between Hawthorn and Geelong. I swapped over to the television and watched the lead-up. There were temporary distractions, flashes of salvation that teased me, but that’s all they remained – temporary.
Somehow, I made it through to the early afternoon and thought the grand final could occupy me. Stan supported Geelong, so I wanted them to win for his sake and as the game unwound, I became invested in it. I had a few beers. The anxiety slipped away, as did the fear of a meltdown. I felt normal – normal as I hadn’t felt since before all this had begun. I was invincible. I couldn’t imagine ever again feeling the way I had.
The game finished with Geelong falling just short. I called Stan, we spoke for a few minutes, and then decided to meet at the station so we could catch a train into the city for a night out. This was Stan and me – everything was done on a whim, and in this moment, this seemed a great idea. I was indomitable!
I showered, caught a lift to the station, and met Stan on the train. The trip into the city was about forty-five minutes, so we chatted about football and general stuff. As we talked, the anxiety started to poke our feelers. I needed more beer. It was that simple. Beer had helped me relaxed, and infused me with bravado.
Once we got into the city, we went to the cinema and bought tickets for the movie Pet Sematery, based on Stephen King’s book – both Stan and I had read the book and were interested in how it translated to screen. Since we had time to kill, we went to the cinema bar and put down several beers. If I could drink enough to feel relaxed again, the movie would take me away, just as the grand final did.
Unfortunately, the movie was mediocre. My mind retreated inward. Symptoms resurfaced. Thoughts stabbed at me. You’re going to panic! You’re going to blow! I kept telling myself I wouldn’t, kept telling myself over and over, and, after the movie, Stan and I hit a few clubs. I resumed drinking as fast as I could, until the inebriation was a buffer. All I had to do now was keep drinking, and I could – I was a fantastic drinker.
We met a group of girls, sat and chatted with them. One was a hairdresser, a pretty blonde by the name of Kelly; she told me I should come in for a hair-cut. She described just how she would cut it, detailing a style I’d usually deride. Still, I made plans to see her, even though her salon was an hour from my house by car, and I neither drove nor had a license and it would take two trains and a bus to get there, but I said I’d come in because when you’re drinking, everything’s a marvellous idea. Especially for a pretty blonde.
The whole night degenerated into a blur. Sometime in the very early morning, Stan and I caught a taxi home.
I’d made it this far.
Tomorrow was yet another day.