Sleeping Wide Awake


Back in the 1980s when I was just a teen, I had a lot of mental health issues before I even knew what they were.

They were my normal – being agitated, or having unexplainable bouts of melancholy, or feeling a disconnect from everybody else. It wasn’t until they exploded into panic attacks that the public hospital psychiatrist was able to give me some muddy clarity.

But the worst of those mental health issues, the meltdowns, came at important times developmentally – when I should’ve been making my way out into the world, I was dealing with anxiety, cluster panic attacks, and OCD; when friends were marrying and working steadily, I was battling agoraphobia so bad at one stage I couldn’t walk out to the mailbox. People were living their lives outward; my mind was retreating inward.

Lots of times I felt like all these mental health issues had fractured me in a way that I couldn’t navigate everyday life. I could tell you why a story does or doesn’t work (in my opinion) – my mind’s a savant that way, and I see structure (in stories) as shapes that do or don’t make sense (to me); but anything else was an ordeal.

When EX picked me up out of some of my shadows, I’d tell her at times that I felt “broken”. I understood some things. I could do some things. But, otherwise, I felt like a fraud. Elements of that remain to this day. I’ve learned to hide it behind a facsimile. I’ve become good at that. It is, perhaps, my best fiction.

But the reality always reemerges in some form.

In our bigger arguments years ago, EX would bring up what I’d confided in her. “You’re broken,” she’d say. “It’s like you tell me, you’re broken.” I could never reconcile how something offered in vulnerability could be weaponized. It wasn’t the only thing. There’s a litany of eviscerating condemnations she’d use.

I wasn’t perfect – furthest from it, and my anger can be incandescent, but I just didn’t understand how easily somebody could not only become personal, but also scathing – like the intent was an emotional, psychological, and spiritual flaying.

IDIOT FRIEND was no different. The moment he didn’t get what he wanted, he would issue a litany of condemnations triumphantly masked in his imbecilic rationale, like he was in some TV drama where the eloquent and virtuous lawyer sways the judge and jury with some impassioned closing monologue.

I like to think BEST FRIEND wasn’t like that, but who knows what people say behind closed doors when you’re not listening? Just about everybody chats and chips and breaks others down. It’s the most ridiculous aspect of human nature. I teach editors I train to “be constructive, not destructive”, but people often seem intent on inverting that mantra.

Who knows what everybody is saying when you’re not around?

Or thinking when you are.