The Octopus In the Room
My entire life I have had the unfortunate ability to convince myself that something, somewhere close to me is very wrong. An intruder. A gas leak. A rabid animal. Someone I love is getting into a car destined for an accident. Someone is walking too close to the ocean and an impending rogue wave. My vivid imagination paired with a gift for storytelling and my compulsion to read the news means I can play those horror films in my head with painful clarity and detail.
And I can’t turn the movie reel off.
For all my educational and professional success, I am not very emotionally disciplined. I’m the girl who convinced herself that driving past her ex’s house to see…oh hell, I don’t even know what I was trying to see. I had a different rationalization every day of the week. But the part of the brain that is supposed to be able to deflect those thoughts and say, “You will NOT do the crazy ex-girlfriend thing” just wasn’t very strong. And the same goes for the part of the brain that is supposed to say “you are in more danger every time you sit in a car than you will ever be in a plane even if you fly every day for the rest of your natural life.” Part of my brain is says it, but it is overwhelmingly outshouted by the part that knows that my constant attention is the only thing keeping 250 passengers and 10 flight staff from crashing into the Pacific.
And so the part of my brain that knows there isn’t a murderer in the house, or mountain lion in the park, and that knows that I have the worst intuition in the history of women, never wins.
And the movie reel plays over and over.
There are times when it is so bad that I’m in bed trembling, trying to keep from crying as I watch the movie play unspeakable horrors to my children, my husband, my mother. I sing to myself. I tell myself other stories. I tell myself that statistics put us all living to an old age and dying of natural causes. But it’s always worse at night. I have jokingly called this phenomenon “Monsters Under the Bed,” in vain effort to make it sound like a harmless Pixar movie. But the monsters have teeth and they are brutally tenacious.
In recent months the ebb and flow has stopped ebbing. The new highlights of the film include the beautiful, towering redwoods that surround my house crashing down on us all. Despite knowing the profound unlikeliness that that will ever happen. Despite a professional inspection and a glowing report card. And now, instead of acclimating or my brain simply reaching fatigue with being able to keep up the pounding of fear, it just plays on and on.
At the point where it was causing my thinking to border on irrational, I knew it was time for help. Plus, it has been almost 40 years of this. I am tired of it.
I know, in the same way I know that rain falls down, that being human obligates me to a social contract that includes doing my everything to ensure that others’ lives are not made harder or smaller by my issues. This includes not driving my husband insane with a need for constant reassurance, or financially undermining us with ridiculous measures to keep trees from falling when they already have no intention of doing so. The bidirectional physics of love means that he helps me and is patient with me, and it also means I do what needs to be done to keep him (or me, or my children) from, at best, frustration, or, at worst, co-dependence.
I am intimately acquainted with the consequence of bipolar disorder and addiction and I know that the familial reach of mental health issues is nearly as far as being Irish and having freckles. But I can also see the place…just there…where security and a sense of safety were supposed to develop, but could not. I can see the barren patch of earth where they were supposed to grow, nurtured by my environment until they were strong enough to weather their own weather. But that is not what got to happen. So I have spackled that place and built over and around it with diligence and information seeking, trying to replace courage with attentiveness and irrational fears with facts. But now, in this time where I have created the safest most secure life I could possibly have, that hole in my psyche has latched on to tall trees as its newest manifestation.