‘The Lurking Shadow’
I threw myself into my editing. This was where I needed to be now: setting up my life, doing whatever it took. Because of Allie’s concerns with my socialising, I’d unwittingly cut off the bulk of my friends. Now it was just me and my back room.
My bosses loved me and were supportive and encouraging. When I was with the job placement agency, Martina explained that some employers might have a problem with my issues with anxiety and depression. Not here.
My authors also liked me, although I felt like an impostor. I was sure sooner or later somebody would turn around and tell the publisher I had no idea what I was doing.
It didn’t happen.
Instead, I made several good friendships with my authors. Moreover, they respected me. It was unreal to me, so surreal, like I was looking at something happening to somebody else.
As always, I continued to pursue my own writing, mailing stuff out. One competition called for novellas or collections of short stories. I written a novella way back in 2002 about a country football league and the mystery surrounding a phenomenal footballer who emerges from nowhere.
Thinking I’d never hear anything more about it – because this is the life of a writer: submit, submit, submit, until that function becomes automatic; and then, systematically, progressively, even the rejections turn into white noise – I threw the novella into the mail and got back to my editing.
One book I read through the course of the day, seated cross-legged on the bed in my back room and hunched over my laptop. When I finished, I got up and felt a tight pain in my right shoulder blade, a couple of inches from the base of my neck. I thought it would be gone by morning.
But when I woke the next day, my neck locked, and the muscles spasmed whenever I tried to move. I went to see Dr Warren who felt a humongous knot in my back, and prescribed me some Panadol Osteo to loosen the muscles, (I couldn’t take an anti-inflammatory, as they screwed with my stomach).
While the neck loosened, the pain was unrelenting. My friend, a qualified masseuse, gave me several massages that eased the pain, marvelling at how tight my back was. Sitting at the computer exacerbated the issue. I’d get up and stretch, I’d apply heat compresses and rub anti-inflammatory gels and creams into it, but nothing worked. Sometimes, the constant pain brought me to tears of frustration.
One day while I was working at my laptop, I marvelled at the author’s life compared to my own. She’d travelled all over the world. I thought about how much I’d love to travel, how much I’d like to see different places. All I’d ever really known was this back room.
Then I checked my email and saw that the novella I’d submitted had won one of four places to a week-long writers’ retreat to be held in Queensland.
Immediately, I wondered how I could get out of it.
Fears flooded my head. What if this and what if that? My neck was killing me. My shortness of breath was resurgent. This wasn’t like going to the plaza, where if the shortness of breath grew too severe I could jump in the car and be home in ten minutes.
My mind changed on a moment-to-moment basis. This was my first major accomplishment as a writer. How could I decline? Other times, it petrified me because of all the What ifs. I thought of the reasons I could decline – such as my neck; that was legitimate enough because of the pain.
But then I decided I had to go. I couldn’t keep cowering in fear. I drove to the travel agent and booked a flight. This little thing in itself was another accomplishment. I’d never bought a plane ticket before. When I’d gone to Canada and Greece with my parents over twenty years earlier, they’d bought the tickets. When I’d gone to Palm Cove with Allie, we’d bought the tickets online. Now I did this alone. Most would take it for granted. For me, it was like I’d taken the first steps on the moon.
But then, with each passing day, my diffidence grew. About ten days before the trip, I contemplated going to Dr Warren and asking him to put me on antidepressants. I had probably just enough time for them to take effect and provide me a ceiling from the trip provoking any unmanageable anxiety. But that would be cheating.
I needed to do this all on my own.
A few days before I was meant to go, I developed a throat infection. I saw Dr Warren and he prescribed me some antibiotics and a repeat prescription. I expressed my fears about everything, and Dr Warren told me I had everything needed to cope with any eventuality – panic, neck problems, throat infection.
As I packed, I felt like a cliché: I packed my antibiotics (I would arrive on a Friday, but wouldn’t finish the course of antibiotics until the Sunday morning), antacids (just in case the antibiotics set my stomach off – a common occurrence), the repeat prescription of antibiotics (just in case), my Xanax, my Panadol Osteo, some anti-inflammatory gel; and a gel heat-pack my masseuse-friend had loaned me.
I felt like the geeks you see in movies who pack pharmacies into their luggage. I hated that it had come to this. I hated all the negative aspects of what should’ve been a great trip and made a deal with myself – well, not a deal, but a demand – that if I survived this trip, I never wanted to be bothered by any of this agoraphobic stuff again.
That done, I was ready to go out into the big wide world.