Life became restructured, but restructured in a safe environment.
I disappeared from the social circles I’d known. Later, I learned people had wondered what happened to me. I let the medications stabilise my life, although often it didn’t feel much different from before. When I eventually began going out again, Stan and I hung around with my cousin, Roo, and his friends.
They were drinkers, and some of them occasional stoners. Stan joined them, although I didn’t. With what was going through my head, taking anything that changed my perceptions seemed redundant. It also scared me that some people could have extreme (paranoid) reactions to dope.
I did drink, though. On Saturday afternoons (and occasionally Friday or Saturday nights) I went to the footy to watch my team, Collingwood, and would have a few throughout the game. Otherwise, on most Friday and Saturday nights, Stan and I hung out with Roo and his crowd going to parties, or to Edwards Park, where we’d buy beer, drink, and sing drunkenly. Sometimes, we hung out at the flat of Roo’s mate, Pat. By this time, I was taking only the Sinequan at night, and skipped the dose if I’d drank too much, (although that wasn’t often).
When I was at home, I wrote, and sometimes had a few beers on my own. It was the best way to cope with bursts of anxiety, or the sporadic intrusive thoughts. Some nights, Stan would come over and we’d have marathon sessions playing games while we drank and talked. One night Stan told me that no matter where you got in your life with your problems, you never really got over this stuff. I hated him for telling me that. It made the battle seem pointless. Until now, I’d looked at it as if it would have the same cycle of a recovering cut – as something that would eventually heal and be gone forever.
But I could also understand what Stan meant. Some days, some hours, some moments, I was invincible, thinking if the anxiety flared I’d deal with it. Other moments, the anxiety did flare, and I thought my body would fly apart, that my head and limbs would explode in different directions, that I’d slip over the edge with the thoughts racing around my head.
In the quiet and stillness of the night, those bizarre thoughts were my greatest enemy. If I was lying in bed, I’d obsess I might hear voices. When I was around sharp objects, I’d panic that I’d take the sharp object and hurt somebody. Or the unreality of my life plagued me, prompting my mantra: I am Les Zigomanis, I am nineteen-years-old, I’m not rich, not famous … Sometimes I wrote it out, to prove to myself I knew what the reality was. And it soothed me for a while. For a very short while. And then I’d be back at it. A few times, I wrote it over and over.
I kept seeing Dr Victor, although the appointments became routine. One time, I showed up with a list of things I wanted to ask him about, and he was encouraged by my initiative. Another time, I sat there and told him I was sick of dealing with this, that I just wanted to have a life. That attitude discouraged him, but he never really said anything. He didn’t have any answers for me. Or insights. Or methods of coping. He sat there, the Sanity Police, who would dole out medicine and check that I hadn’t crossed some line requiring hospitalisation. When he offered his wisdom, it was shock therapy, like when he told me that I was heading for a nervous breakdown. It was unhelpful when I was in such an impressionable state. But at least while he was there and I was out in the world, I was okay. I was winning, however begrudgingly.
About four months after my initial overload, he disappeared without explanation and was replaced by Dr Grace. This was the public health system. I’d spent months building a rapport with this doctor, developing trust in him, him getting to know me and everything I was going through, then he was gone and I had to start over. Like that, one of the cornerstones of my recovery had vanished.
Dr Grace was in his late thirties, handsome in a classical leading man way, and although he seemed stern – like a business exec who’d kick your butt for failing – he was easy-going (although I’d thought that of Dr Victor initially) and had a wry sense of humour. He was somebody I immediately liked.
By this time, I’d generated momentum, especially as the writing again took over my life, although in a good way. This was me, as idealistic as it was. If I wasn’t writing, I wasn’t me. It felt like my imagination was feeding back, overlapping my conscious, spilling into rational thoughts. Now, I woke up and knew what I wanted to do that day. When I sat and wrote, it was the only time I was both at peace and contented. Most nights, I went to bed looking forward to the morning because Book One of the NEXT GREAT FANTASY EPIC was blossoming.
It wasn’t much, but it was something.