Anxiety and the Pursuit of Numbness
It has been three years since I graduated with my B.S. In those three years I have spent roughly 90% of the time feeling completely uncomfortable. That is not to say I was comfortable while I was in college. I managed to avoid making any new friends while in school and chose only to have a few short-lived relationships within the small circle of lesbians on my campus. When the relationships ended I subsequently lost all second hand invites to parties or other events my girlfriend of choice would afford me. I purposefully avoided living in a dorm and commuted to school, allowing me to maintain old friendships. I spent a lot of time alone in the library and alone in my car in the parking lot, sleeping between classes or eating lunch there to avoid being seen alone. I pretty much just wanted to get out by the time my sophomore year rolled around.
My feeling of skin-crawling restlessness swirled into an overall sense of dread and inadequacy definitely reached its peak after graduation. I have a lovely girlfriend that rode through this period with me but somehow her support is not enough to keep me from filling every moment that my mind wanders to an anxiety ridden place with Utz hot potato chips, boxed white wine, furious cleaning, watching porn or nagging.
I live in Brooklyn. I spent my senior year of undergrad and the following two years in the city save for a brief stint moving back home to Buffalo. The anxiety of moving back caused me to chip my own tooth due to the extreme sleep-grinding I was doing then and still do now (but with a bite guard.) But I’m back in the city now, I have a two year lease so it’s as final as things can get at this point. Everyone, and by everyone I mean people who write articles online and my therapist, says that “New York is just a fast-paced and challenging place to live in. Everyone feels overwhelmed when they first move here.”
That response just angers me. Yeah but, people still “make it” here despite all that so…I really have no excuse. I find myself wishing for the death of every happy and conspicuously tall blonde-haired European tourist family that I have to push past on my way to work in midtown. Fuck those assholes. Where do they get off having paid leave and enough money to travel abroad and purchase weird yet minimalist sandals and backpacks that make them so obviously not American? I buy a chai latte with a shot of espresso on my way to work to make myself feel better even though my account is overdrawn. I am in my “I don’t give a shit about anything” stage that always follows a long bout of my “I must do everything humanly possible to be productive” stage. It’s like a ferris wheel of blind motivation and total apathy.
I gain and lose the same five pounds, get on a strict facial cleansing regimen and then pick my acne so much that I stop washing my face at night because I can’t stand the sight of my skin, I take my dog on brisk 45 minute walks to the park every day after work for a few weeks and then feel like shit when I just take her to the corner because I am too exhausted. I can’t stick to anything. I can’t do anything all the way. I can see my ideal self just out of reach but my energy gives out every time.
And so, at the advice of my psychologist I make an appointment to see a psychiatrist. Today I have to get up at five in the morning to make it to the appointment before work. Sipping my 75 cent deli coffee on the train I think back to just last year when I was still at my hourly retail job and regularly had to wake up at obscene times to prep the store layout before opening. Surely I am better off now. I have a steady job with a set salary. I can usually pay my rent on time and after I pay off my credit card I might actually be able to save a little to travel somewhere next year.
“Not good enough.” my brain tells me. My brain is a judgmental cunt.
I see the dirty, schizophrenic homeless man waving his hands wildly on the last seat of the train as I transfer to the express track. I hate myself and look away like everyone else.
The appointment goes pretty much how I hoped it would. The doctor is old and liver spotted but friendly enough. He asks me if I have any questions about the medication. I don’t. I already know how they work. I know they are pretty much thesame as a placebo and the brain is just a vast landscape of mush that researchers poke and prod and shrug their shoulders at when something lights up on an MRI. I want the pills anyway. He writes me a script and tells me to come back in a few weeks to follow up. I stop at the pharmacy on my way to my job and make it to work early even after telling my boss I might be late due to “a dentist appointment.”
I can understand people’s outrage about “big pharma” and how mental issues are defined as “chemical imbalances” when there is always another much more complicated side that shapes a human’s general outlook on life that science cannot readily define. I am crippled by perfectionism and the mental floggings I give myself for making a mistake or just general indecision leave me in this weird place of feeling like the vicious prison guard and the hopeless victim at the same time. So maybe I would rather be high…or “on medication.” Maybe this vast use of psychiatric drugs from the late 50’s up until the present is a sign that our species just has too much think about. We’d rather have some kind of buffer from the endless stream of information pummeled into us on a daily basis. I’ve surrendered now and I’m not sorry. I take my little bottle of pills home and breathe a tiny sigh of relief.