The Other Me
‘The Lurking Shadow’
I obsessed about everything in Queensland. The worst of the flu cleared over the next couple of days, but I stayed on the antibiotics just in case. My neck and back bothered me. The shortness of breath nagged at me.
One night we went to a local pub for dinner. The trip flared my agoraphobia. I told myself I was hundreds of miles from home, I was fine living at the retreat (well, most of the time) and, now, driving another couple of kilometres to get something to eat at a local pub was going to bother me? It’s something that happened whenever we went out.
On Wednesday, I ordered a massage for my neck and back. The masseuse remarked on the size of the knot in my shoulder blade, and mentioned that the left side of my back was even tighter – probably because it was trying to compensate for my right side. Her massage focused on the knot. She told me it would break up now it had been treated.
That night my back ached more. I SMSed my masseuse-friend and asked if that was normal following a massage. She said it was if it was a deep massage.
I filled the hot tub. The water was the faintest yellow. It could’ve been the cast of the tub, or it could’ve been that it was tank water. Now I worried about having an allergic reaction to the water. For the same reasons, I didn’t want to use the soaps and bubble baths supplied.
My head exploded in two: the rational side that knew all these fears were either groundless, or only worth worrying about should they occur; and the irrational side that ran rampant, posing worst-case scenarios, and countering any logic the other side fired.
For the first time ever in my life, I saw the neurosis – all of it: the anxiety, the depression, the OCD, and everything associated with those conditions – as a shadowy entity independent of me, talking to me, constantly (endlessly) feeding me worst-case scenarios. In my head, I shouted at it, screamed, told it I knew what it was, what it was trying to do, and to leave me alone!
It didn’t listen.
The next day, my back was sorer. When I’d awakened with the original problem, just moving triggered spasms. If it locked now, how would I carry my bag? How would I sit on a cramped plane? As these thoughts raced through my mind at breakfast, one of the others remarked that was the way with massages – it got worse before it got better. She didn’t know it, but she’d just reassured me.
That night – our final together – we went to a Thai restaurant. One of the girls mentioned she could eat all seafood but crab, which she was allergic to. That triggered in me the fear that maybe I was allergic to seafood – not that I’d ever been before. But I’d never had anything exotic before either. I told the ENTITY to shut up, that if an allergy wanted to take me out, it was welcome to it.
Now there was a new undercurrent to all the worrying. It wasn’t just that a problem might occur, but that any problem might land-lock me in Queensland. A litany of new fears spewed forth from that concept – accommodation, dealing with doctors I didn’t know, getting treatment, and so on.
The night continued the same seesawing battle, but the next day I left with regret. Despite the war I’d been fighting, I’d very much grown to enjoy the company of the others, and the independence of the household. There was also the environment, cultivated to writing. Everything was unalike anything I knew, and had ever known. I just wished that other me could’ve shut up.
The next morning I said my goodbyes and was driven to the airport, now worrying that we’d be late and miss my plane – even though we had plenty of time. When I checked in, I was told I could only have an aisle seat. After the experience of the flight up, the aisle was fine with me.
This plane was bigger than the last, with three seats to either side. I ordered the cable entertainment. The same fears I’d experienced on the trip up arose. At one point, panic escalated to blow. The television in front of me cycled channels. The panic was forgotten as I worked out that the guy in the seat next to me had put his arm down on the TV controls on the armrest and was unwittingly changing the channel. It was a useful distraction.
I’d left Brisbane, which was sunny and bright, and when I arrived back in Melbourne everything was dark, cold, and wet. But it wasn’t just the climate. For a snapshot in time, I was a person.
Now, I was back in the muck.