Today I stared—it was only for a moment—at prescription oxycodone. In that moment I wondered how many I would have to take in order to drift off to sleep. Not because I want to die—in fact, just the opposite. I am deathly (ha) afraid of death.
I was twelve when I came to the morbid realization that one day I would breathe and breathe and then breathe no more. I was at the house of a family friend sitting on an aged green couch playing 007 on a Nintendo 64. I’d just been resurrected as Bond for the millionth time and it was as though someone beyond me dropped the notion into my head. It came to me as a sentence spoken in my own mind by someone else: “I am going to die.”
For a month after I was afraid to sleep. My mom, in a moment of desperation, called my biological father for help. He asked, “are you afraid to sleep?” I lied and said no. He responded, “well sleep is a cousin to death. It’s just like going to sleep.” Unsurprisingly this did not help. It wasn’t as though I didn’t know what death was. I’d gone to my first funeral when I was three. In spite of what my husband says I do, in fact, remember age three, and I remember that funeral. By the time I was twelve I’d gone to half a dozen. I went to so many in one summer (three) that I began to equate Alabama with death and decay.
Eventually I moved forward. I did not move past this fear, but carried it with me, in all things. I lived in constant fear for everyone, including myself. I was obsessive about my health and the health of my parents, my siblings, my friends. I was afraid of riding in cars with people. I didn’t tell anyone about this fear, because it seemed like something we likely all share. Who wants to be around that person? Besides—what can anyone actually say to make the fear dissipate?
I had my first panic attack in the middle of my first c-section. My heart rate began to rise and I heard someone in the room call for, of all things, a cardiologist. I began gasping for air, stating that I couldn’t breathe. George and Bailey had already left the room for her bath, etc. so I was on the table alone. The fear was overwhelming and I was alone.
I spent Bailey’s first night on earth in the ICU being monitored. My doctor never came by to check on me. I never found out why my heart rate was so high—and I had not heard of anxiety at the time. Bringing Bailey home is a blur. In fact, the first year is a blur. I remember George’s first Father’s Day spent in the ER. I was convinced I was dying. The doctor on call, after extensive tests, sent me home. He likely told me that I was having a panic attack, but as I said—that year is a blur.
I had a panic attack at church and the women gathered there prayed for me, but from a distance. I was embarrassed and, as always, overwhelmed.
I suppressed a panic attack in the middle of a final exam in British Literature. I was struck by the notion that I would have a heart attack and collapse in that very room.
I did not get over that year. Instead, I learned to drag it like a weight with me. For the duration of my twenties I was in a heightened state of anxiety almost all of the time.
Exercise helped. I could think about my own termination without sweating and collapsing. After the birth of Avery I had relapses, but no panic attacks. I felt cured.
Now we come to this morning. I can’t pretend I haven’t felt this dread for weeks—in fact, I could feel it coming before we left the hospital with Emerson. I felt it when I sat in the ER the day after we came home. I feel it every single morning that I wake up, when my mind says, “you won’t do this always.”
I feel this every time I read a news article or watch television. I feel it in the dark at night. This time no panic accompanies it. There are no palpitations. Instead there is silence.
So as I was walking around with this wonderful baby this morning I saw that oxycodone and I wondered, and not because I want to go anywhere. I don’t want to go anywhere. I don’t want to miss a single moment of this. I want to exist forever. Some people call this selfish—I’ve never considered myself a selfless person, so I’m not ashamed of that label. I’m here now typing about it because, maybe one day I’ll look back and think, “I’m glad I got through that.” I’m writing it here where others can see it because I can’t be the only one. We are alone in This, but it doesn’t have to be lonely.
Right now I am in the midst of it, the existential dread. It’s weight is oppressive, but there must be a light in here somewhere.