Unwell

My first memory is of sitting on a small brick wall. I was three, as was my sister, Sarah, who sat next to me. My dad stood in front of us.

We lived on the bottom floor of a two family house. It was small and contained, and stifling. We were balls of energy and we needed release; we needed to move.

My dad would take us all over the neighborhood, to different playgrounds. We played “Old Man,” a variation of tag where my dad was always it. He would stand under the slide trying to grab our legs as we ran up and down. We shouted, “Old Man, you can’t catch us,” while sticking out our tongues, and shrieking in delight as he pretended to not be able to keep up.

We could do this for hours. Like playing fetch with a rambunctious puppy, my dad chased us until we were ready to drop. Then we’d go home and feel a little less stir-crazy on the bottom floor of that two-family house, an apartment and yard that never truly felt our own.

***

But on the day of my first memory, Sarah and I got a second wind as we walked home from the park, We saw a small brick wall, separating someone’s yard from the sidewalk. Though the wall would fall well below my hip today, at the time it felt like being on top of the world.

The wall was stepped, with three different levels. Sarah and I walked up the first one together, and then we both climbed to the second. She sat down and dangled her legs, her sneakers hanging half a foot from the ground. She was content with her medium-level ascent.

But, I ever the daredevil, wanted to go one step higher, I wanted to go all the way to the top.

So I climbed up and sat down. I was just far enough from Sarah to really test my dad’s wingspan.

My sister and I were a tag team. We shared a room; our two little red iron beds were set up directly across from each other so when we opened our eyes in the morning we were each other’s first sights. When my dad would try to put us down for naps, one of us would wait until he was trying to get the other to settle down, and then we would pop up and create a bigger disruption so he had to switch sides. The day we stopped being required to take naps was the day that Sarah drilled him in the head with her bottle from across the room as he tried to prevent my escape.

As we sat on this wall, on this sunny afternoon, we fed off each other’s manic energies. We both began rocking forward, our tiny fists clasping onto the concrete ledge of the brick wall. My dad put his arms out in both directions, trying to create safety restraints for both of us.

As he kept us from falling, Sarah and I were progressively having more and more fun. We kept rocking our bodies harder and harder. Sarah went too hard first, and my dad lunged to keep her from hitting the ground.

Unfortunately, this coincided with my strongest jolt, as well, and as he attended to her, I let go of the wall mid-rock and allowed my body to be propelled straight forward.

My dad saw me begin my descent, but he could not make his way back over in time.

I smashed my head into the sidewalk and learned there is no one who can catch you every time you think it’s safe to let go.

***

My memory of the day ends there, but the rest of the afternoon has been filled in for me. I cried for a bit after my head hit the ground, but I generally seemed okay, at first. My dad walked Sarah and me the few blocks back to our apartment.

At home, he became increasingly concerned. I was disoriented, my pupils were huge and my eyes were out of focus. When he spoke to me, I didn’t seem to process what he was saying. He called my mom, who was at work. She drove home immediately. They left Sarah with a neighbor and drove me to the hospital.

***

At the hospital, one of the attendants wrote down that I hit my head by falling out of the shopping cart at the grocery store. When the doctor came in to begin asking my parents questions about the incident, they started talking about the wall. He grew suspicious, but eventually he believed their story.

The doctor diagnosed my concussion, and announced that I had to spend the night in the hospital. My mom left to go take care of Sarah, but my dad stayed with me; he felt guilty that he had not been able to protect me.

I remember staying up late that night watching TV. I had been throwing up and couldn’t eat solid foods, so I was given an endless supply of popsicles, instead.

The next day, when I woke up, my mom brought me a plastic bullfrog to play with while I rested in a hospital bed. It was the kind of plastic frog whose mouth was open and a hard piece of plastic blocked off the wall to its cavernous interior. The piece of plastic was solid, unmoving, save for a small hole. The opening was like a pinprick through which you could squeeze hard and bring water into the frog’s would-be stomach. Then you could squash it with your toddler might to spray water into the face of an unsuspecting victim.

I was concussed, and in a linoleum chamber instead of a pool; I had to entertain myself by holding the frog in front of my face. I repeatedly compressed the bullfrog, blowing hot gusts of polyvinyl scented air into my nostrils.

***

I remember being sad when the doctor came in and told me that it was okay for me to leave.

I wasn’t afraid of the hospital; I liked it. There was something comforting about the constant ruckus in the halls; the carts being pushed and the reverberating chatter as nurses made their rounds.

I liked the TV, with the remote I controlled; I liked the seemingly endless supply of channels. But, most of all, there was something I liked about being sick, about being able to curl up into a little ball of vulnerability. It was like having a giant sleepover with my dad in a hotel, but in a place even more curious. I liked being brought gifts, and having people concerned about me, constantly asking me how I felt, how I was doing.

I liked people feeling sorry for me.

I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to stay in the hospital forever.

***

When I was little I loved medicine. My parents kept Orange Triaminic in the condiment section of the fridge. Whenever the door opened, there it was, right at eye level.

That glowing bottle of citrus elixir called for me.

“I don’t feel good,” I would sniffle to my dad.

“Get some sleep,” he would reply.

“Can I have some of the orange stuff?” I would ask, lightly coughing.

“Okay,” he would say. “Go grab it.”

I would walk to the fridge, fighting the urge to skip; I was giddy inside. It was my childhood version of picking your poison. Though it was never much a decision, at all. I knew what I wanted. I had been thinking about it for hours.

He would pour some of the syrup onto a spoon and I would lap it down. It was like candy, but better. Candy tasted good, but Triaminic felt good.

I took pleasure in knowing the stuff was moving through my body, fighting off any sickness.

Even if I knew I was not sick, per se, I figured there was nothing wrong with taking a little extra precaution.

***

When my parents bought us Flintstone Vitamins, I always wanted to take more than they gave me.

“You can’t take more, or you’ll get sick,” my mom said.

But to my childhood mind, that seemed so counterintuitive. How could medicine be bad for you? How could something that felt good be wrong? Shouldn’t taking more of something just make it work better?

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Reflections on National Coming Out Day

“When did you come out?” I am often asked by friends – mostly who are straight. How do you even begin to answer that? Coming out isn’t a moment, it’s a process; it’s freeing and it’s painful.

Coming out isn’t always an act of self-liberation or a statement of pride. I came out to my parents during my freshmen year of high school because I’d gotten in trouble and I wanted them to feel bad for me; I came out to a boy or two moments after they came out to me; I came out to some friends as a teen by accident when too many cans of Keystone Light made my lips much looser; and I came out to some friends only once at college, where the free-spirited nature made me finally feel home.

To me, the most crucial moment was when I came out to myself.

* * *

I was home alone in 6th grade, watching TV in my parent’s bed. It was a hot summer day, and I wore my usual uniform of an oversized t-shirt and basketball shorts. My cheeks were still puffy and full like a child and baby fat still clung to my hips, but the sprouting of hair in the most peculiar of places made me aware that a bodily transition was underway.

Yet, no prepubescent child can fully comprehend the emotional, physical, and spiritual changes that accompany sexual development. No almost-adolescent can ever be prepared for the way this transformation hits like a tsunami. No matter how many sex-ed classes you sit through, no matter how many mini-deodorants you are given, no matter how many illustrations you stare at in It’s Perfectly Normal, no matter how many condoms you put on bananas, you can’t ever understand any of it, until it actually happens to you.

How can you be warned that you will spend the next decade held hostage by the surge of the onset of your sexuality; like a sailor lost at sea, you’ll be violently flipped while your exposed skin is ground into the gritty sand as you’re pulled out into the rough wake. And there’s no respite; you’ll feel equally out of control as you’re thrown back to shore, only to immediately be washed back out; your bodily reactions, your feelings, they’re all so out of your control. And there’s no one to properly tell you to grab a life vest and hold on, because by the time they’re old enough to warn you, they’ve forgotten how it feels; how rousing and terrifying it is to not understand not only what’s happening below your belt, but also in your mind; in your conscious thoughts and in your fantasies.

So I sat on the bed, ever unsuspecting, watching an infomercial; what could be more innocuous? A man and a woman were demonstrating their fitness regiment on some bullshit abs machine that YOU TOO COULD FOREVER TRANSFORM YOUR BODY WITH FOR JUST THREE PAYMENTS OF $39.99 PLUS SHIPPING AND HANDLING.

The woman wore a lime green sports bra and tight lycra cycling shorts, the man was shirtless, wearing just black workout shorts. Both of their bodies looked as though Michaelangelo had sculpted them, and as they went through the tediously dull workout sweat glistened on their bare torsos.

Every child knows that infomercials are a sign from God to find a new channel, and I was sitting in bed eating ice cream; I didn’t give two shits about working out. But, I found myself transfixed by what was happening on the screen.

I was disturbed and perplexed by own fascination, by my involuntarily held gaze.

What am I looking at?

I paid attention to my own eyes’ desire, and realized that I was focused on one thing: the man’s exposed body.

I felt a stirring below, and realized my body was reacting to what my eyes were seeing. I felt my face was grow flushed as desire filled my veins; a desire I had never experienced before. Of course every young boy has involuntary erections, but this was my first that was inspired by sexual attraction; my first arousal, the first time blood had been called to my groin by lust.

Shit, I thought. I’m gay.

* * *

Having a sexual awakening is hard for anyone, but it is so much worse when you are fighting against yourself; when you are not just confused by your desires, but rather repulsed by them.

I don’t want to be gay, I told myself. Maybe this is just a phase.

It didn’t take me long to realize that my sexuality was not temporary; my fantasies were always male-dominated.

Of course, this shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise; I’d been called gay many times before as a child. But, those names were attached to effeminate mannerisms and qualities and an interest in objects and subjects that were boxed-off as being “for girls.”

This was different. Now, my body was physically declaring its sexuality, its homosexuality. I was without a choice. And that was terrifying.

Plus, there’d been some evidence that had been confusing; subconscious manifestations of my own denial, of my own fear. When I was five, my best friend – who was a girl – and I had a fake wedding; we’d skinny dipped in her pool, French kissed in my closet and had played countless rounds of “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.”

In elementary school, I’d had crushes on girls, and many of them felt real. When I played The Sims with my guy friends, we’d create replicas of ourselves with wives who were just grown up versions of girls from our class.

And now, here I was, in middle school, with a scary truth that I had to guard to protect myself.

I have to keep this a secret.

* * *

Of course, it was glaringly obvious, but I still went through the protocol.

Mind your eyes in the locker room, don’t be that gay who creeps on straight boys, keep publicly having “crushes” on girls and, most importantly, never allow yourself to be subjugated; establish social dominance and power and intimidate so you’ll never be a victim.

The first two rules weren’t so hard to maintain. I had one fleeting faux-relationship in 6th with a serial dating, lonely 8th grade girl and then decided that faking it wasn’t really my thing. So I maintained public asexuality, and rather put all of my energy into the third rule:

If people are afraid of me, they won’t probe. So I suppose I’d rather be feared than loved.

* * *

The morning when I was 22 and called my dad sobbing to tell him I was an alcoholic, I remember admitting, “I just feel so mean.”

“When you were young, you hardened yourself. You became a prick, so no one could hurt you,” he said. “But sometimes you’ve got to let yourself just be soft.”

That is something I am still working on, but growing up that was the least of my concerns.

In middle school culture, where “faggot” is a common phrase, used both as a homophobic slur and a synonym of “asshole,” and “that’s so gay” is a term stated to describe pretty much anything negative, I couldn’t help but internalize feelings of self-loathing. When people would direct such terms at me, or even imply them, I would use physical and social dominance to intimidate; I “put them in their place” because I believed it was a dog-eat-dog world and I didn’t want to be put into mine.

Of course, in retrospect, there are many instances in middle and high school where I now realize I went too far in what I thought was self-protection; where I became the bully to avoid being the bullied. It troubles me that when I was in the moment, and I felt threatened, it was so hard to discern between self-preservation and cruelty.

In hostile environments, I can’t help but become hostile, I convinced myself.

* * *

This trend continued through high school, where I was never particularly kind or empathetic to other gay students who were out because they reminded me too much of a part of myself that I wanted to hide. When I got to college and saw cliques of gay men form – full of people who I deemed “radical” in their ability to not only embrace but also actively assert their queerness – I quickly decided that these were people I wanted to avoid.

I don’t want to go to gay bars and be shirtless and sexual, I want a town house and a husband who wears loafers while pushing our double stroller and walking our dog.

I wanted to conform to the existing heteronormative lifestyle; I wanted to find my future husband who was equally keen to be sectioned off from the greater LGBTQ community so we could more easily blend into the straight world. I had spent so many years working so hard to fit in; to create my little corner of space.

But, life’s not that simple, and vilifying an identity group you belong to so you can be a token minority in the hegemonic group is never going to make you happy; it’s always going to come back to bite you; it will make you forever hate yourself.

And that lesson I learned, as I let down my walls and made gay friends; I learned it as I realized I could have gay friends who I did not sleep with – who I was not only friends with because I thought they could one day be cast in the role of “picture perfect husband.” I learned this lesson as I realized that I do in fact care about gay rights not only because fighting for LGBTQ equality was tied to the end of my own oppression, but more importantly because – apart my sexuality – I am in so many ways privileged.

And so, though I once so subconsciously daydreamed about finding my husband and running away to blend into “mainstream” America, that mentality was so beyond fucked up; it was motivated by the selfishness that stemmed from my raging self-loathing.

* * *

So, on this National Coming Out Day, as my newsfeed is filled with Rainbow Flags posted by those who are proud and declarative of their sexuality and those who are proud and declarative of the sexuality of their loved ones; when laws have been written that guarantee my right to marry – a right that as I grew up I was unsure I would ever have, a right that so many were denied; and as videos go viral that assure suffering LGBTQ youth that “It Gets Better,” I cannot help but hope that one day such holidays and campaigns become obsolete: I can’t help but hope that “coming out” stops being terrifying and earth shattering, that parents won’t be angry when their kids come out because they’re assholes or sad that their kids come out because “it’s difficult to know that life will always be harder for them,” that trans-women of color stop being assaulted and murdered and that no kids – or adults for that matter – need to hear that “It Gets Better” because we will be at a point where “It is Better,” not just on October 11th, but all year round.

Two-Tone

Late at night, after I had turned off my lights, I still lay restless in bed. I was dreading the last day of classes before they let us out for Spring Break.

Fuck this IB paper, I thought to myself. Ugh, why can’t they just let us turn it in after break?

My teenage turmoil was interrupted by a silence shattering sound; a deep, suffering breathing.

Who is that? I wondered. This is it; my real life SVU ending is about happen. Am I about to find someone dead? Am I going to die?

Channeling Olivia Benson, Elliott Stabler and Fin Tutuola, I gathered the courage to creep over to the door and peek through the crack into the dimly lit hallway.

I breathed a sigh of relief and opened the door.

I walked over to pet Two-Tone, my one blue-eye-one brown-eyed dog who sat panting on the hard wood floor. When I sat next to him he didn’t lift his head; he just let out an exasperated exhale and closed his eyes.

***

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Two-Tone’s majestic movements had been on the decline for a few days, but earlier when I had let him out, he’d swiftly cleared the four-foot fence that separated my back yard from the neighbor’s.

His leaping tactics were nothing new, but the amount of time he strayed that afternoon was. After two failed attempts of walking up and down the street bellowing, “TWOOOOOOOO-TOOOOONE, WANNNNNA TREEEEAAAAT?” I made my voice drop to as deep an octave as physically possible in an attempt to imitate my father, his champion. I did not hear paws prancing on ice, or the whoosh of a 60-pound dog soaring through the snow; I didn’t hear squirrels scampering back to their branches of safe haven, or the clink of dog tags slapping against each other as their host ran free.

Screw this, I thought, annoyed by this almost daily occurrence. He’ll come back on his own.

I gave up and went home to do homework in front of the TV.

Two and a half hours later, I heard a bark at the front door and was relieved to see the escapee had returned. But, something seemed off: Two-Tone’s multi-colored eyes seemed to be slightly rolling, and a trace of foam gathered at the corners of his mouth.

“Ew, did you drink too much creek water?” I rhetorically asked him, as I envisioned the park at the end of our block with the brown colored rising currents that filled Furnace Brook as spring flirted with return, and the soiled snow melted.

Eh, whatever.

I thought nothing of it.

He must just be dehydrated or exhausted from his mischievous outing.

I filled his dishes with water and food and went back to watching TV.

***

And now, I found myself bent over his heaving body with something within me screaming like a cackling kettle that this all felt so wrong.

I hurried to my parent’s room and shook my deep sleeping dad.

“Dad! Dad! Two-Tone is breathing really bizarrely,” I insisted. “I don’t think he’s okay!”

My dad was in a half-awake haze.

“We can take him to the vet first thing in the morning,” he said, almost instantly falling back asleep. Two-Tone was only seven; it’s not like he was on hospice-for-hounds; no one had any reason to worry.

So, I went to pet him one last time before bed and kissed him on the head before retreating to my room.

What I did not know was that the “one last time” was not for the night: It was forever.

I woke up to my dad in a state of distress; my mother had walked into the bathroom to find Two-Tone’s corpse curled against the cold, porcelain bathtub.

Dare I go look? I contemplated. What choice do I have?

***

I helped my brother and father lift Two-Tone’s stiff dead body and load him into the back of our van. We drove to the pet crematorium that we had found as we frantically flipped through the yellow pages of the phone book. I sat in the back seat sobbing with my face stuffed into his lifeless fur. I had always imagined a dead body to be limp, but he was stiff, like he was frozen. I found solace in the physical resistance provided by his locked limbs.

As is typical in moments of grief, we had to blame ourselves aloud as we practiced blaming others in our head.

“It’s all my fault, we should have taken him to the emergency vet when you woke me up,” whispered my dad.

“It’s all my fault, I shouldn’t have let him roam for hours,” I choked.

Then we were ready to spew our accusations aloud.

“Shouldn’t the vet have seen something wrong during his checkup?” barked my brother.

“Maybe someone left out antifreeze!” screeched my sister.

“Why couldn’t he just be content within the confines of our sheltered backyard?” I shouted at the sky.

***

We reached the crematorium too quickly, and I said goodbye to him then, as he was loaded into the back of a golf cart and driven away to have his physical essence incinerated.

I said goodbye to him again later as we scattered his ashes in the forest where we used to walk him at the end of my dead-end block.

I said goodbye to him as I wondered how the remains of such a large animal could suddenly be stuffed into such a very small tin.

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Xanax & India

Withdrawal is never good; withdrawal is especially detestable when it’s medically unsupervised in a foreign country. This was a lesson that I had to learn the hard way as I found myself feeling like Alice in Wonderland after she eats the cake marked “Eat Me” and suddenly becomes a disproportionate giant; monstrous yet fragile.

It was one of those days with an overcast gray sky and thick sitting air; the way Hollywood always portrays 1970’s San Francisco. Rickshaws sped past and cows roamed the road. It was a mere 24 hours after I decided that I was going to take matters into my own hands and end my addiction to Xanax.

I was already feeling the intense side effects of withdrawal. I was lightheaded and wobbly. Though there was no breeze, I felt unsteady, like I was swaying. My sensations of derealization were so intense that I felt as though I was levitating a foot above the hectic New Delhi street.

I began to convulsively gasp; I was drowning in the air in which everyone else seemed to be breathing just fine. As the scenes of my imminent death flashed in my head, I stumbled – slamming my sandal-clad foot perfectly into a glob of cow manure. I started to fold, and my vision went out of focus.

My American friend, Tyler, who had been around for the entirety of my anti-anxiety medication “over-indulgence” grabbed me by the wrist and dragged me the few blocks to the local cabstand. In broken Hindi, she somehow managed to communicate to the driver that we needed to quickly be delivered to the nearest hospital.

While this specific withdrawal-induced panic attack was just another episode of my four month mental unraveling, it wasn’t until I was being wheeled into the quaint, if not terribly outdated, Indian hospital that I realized how absolutely insane I not only looked, but had become. From my loosely fitting White-Boy-in-India linen shirt and culturally-inappropriate-above-the-knee shorts, to my cow shit strewn foot; from my sunken, absent eyes to my emaciated limbs; I had become the poster child of first world dysfunction abroad.

I was promptly brought into a room with stiff cots separated by retractable curtains. The nurses wasted no time in closing the curtains around me as to not disturb the other patients and their families.

I was in a sheer panic; I was shaking uncontrollably and my vision was blocked by the endless refills from my tear ducts. I compulsively moved two fingers back and forth from my neck to my chest as I searched for a heartbeat. My subconscious paranoia had taken over; I could feel no pulse. I plead for the doctors to save me. I was convinced that my heart was going to quit at any second.

These feelings were nothing new; I had spent every night of the past couple of months trying to coax myself to sleep while battling that sinking feeling that never failed to consume my mind. Each night, I was utterly certain that this would be the night that my heart would finally stop pumping blood through my veins. I was positive that this headache was actually an aneurysm ready to burst. All of these nights ended the same: After taking a few Xanax and chasing them with watered-down whiskey, I was able to subdue this fear of never waking up enough to finally drift into sedative-induced stupor.

Despite my familiarity with these psychophysical symptoms of anxiety attacks, the degree to which they were hitting me was incomparable to my prior experiences and the foreignness of the hospital wasn’t helping. Unlike in America, where every medical supply seemed to be readily available to the hospital staff, I was disturbed to discover that at this Indian hospital, the doctor gives the patient’s companion a list so that she can purchase each item – whether it is a pill, a needle, or an IV bag – a la carte from a desk in the lobby. Not only would this transaction involve overcoming a language barrier, it also meant standing in a long, slow-moving line.

Tyler had to continuously go back and forth from my bed to the desk to get my medical supplies. When you’re having an anti-anxiety-medication-addiction-withdrawal-induced-panic attack at a hospital in a less than modernized sector of New Delhi, the last thing a semi-privileged mildly-sheltered American wants is to be left alone. I worked myself into such hysteria that I began vomiting the remnants of my McSpicy Paneer, which I had foolishly mistaken as a home-away-from-home comfort food a few hours earlier.

I was l lying on my stomach with my head over the side of the bed retching into a bucket – all the while pleading both aloud and in my head for salvation. Cold hands pressed themselves against my lower back as my shorts and underwear were swiftly pulled down to my knees, leaving my butt completely exposed. In complete confusion I craned my neck to look at the nurse whose minimal spoken English abilities did not prevent me from knowing – from the locking of our eyes – that something painful was on its way.

“Breathe,” she said firmly as she jabbed what felt like the longest and thickest needle known to man into my semi-clenched behind. After the initial jolt of pain shot through my body, I began to feel an instantaneous sense of relief. She continued her work; shoving a cocktail of pills into my mouth while inserting an IV into my arm.

I looked up and tried to catch the nurse’s attention. I was still gently sobbing with streaks of throw-up smeared across my cheeks. When I caught her eye, I managed to whimper, “Am I going to die?” The nurse shook her head and giggled as she pushed her cart away.

The injection of what must have been Librium set in, and I began feeling woozy as my sense of imminent tragedy subsided. I silently sat up and peeked around the curtain. From my little area I was able to see a stoic younger woman hunched over the bed of an unconscious man. From the way her trembling fingers were entwined with his, it was clear that he was her husband; her beloved. His face was smashed; it was covered in blood, and he lay nearly lifeless, yet still breathing.

At the bed next to them were three adult-children gathered around an old man with an oxygen mask. He looked very much on his way out of this life, and they held onto each other as they came to terms with his impending passage.

Tacked directly on the wall in between their two beds was the calendar sold by Palna, the orphanage where I volunteered. Palna means, “cradle,” in Hindi, and the name was not random: A cradle was installed within the secure wall that surrounded the facility. Parents could drop anonymously drop their babies and small children off in the cradle – which was manned by security guards – when they could no longer provide.

For the month of November the calendar showcased the grinning face of the Shivani, one of the children I spent time with during my visits. I pictured Shivani, shrieking in delight as she played hide and seek in the open courtyards of the orphanage. She was mischievous, and sneakily pinched the other kids when she thought none of the adults were watching.

Utter chaos was occurring around me as patients and doctors zoomed in and out of the emergency room, but I fixed my stare upon Shivani’s two-dimensional smirk. I thought about the two patients and their families.

These are people with real problems, I thought to myself. What is wrong with me?

***

Two months before, in September, my dad had come to visit.

Waking up early, I took the metro to meet him at the New Delhi airport. The High Court of Delhi had been bombed the week before, and I had stopped taking the metro as the line I took passed right beneath the site.

On this morning, I convinced myself this was the most practical way to travel. I had always been adventurous, fearless. I had never been afraid of death, and now I needed to work up the courage to just ride the metro.

My dad’s visit coincided with my first (unsuccessful) Xanax detox, and as I sat on the train an old Sikh with a traditional sword sat across from me. I spent the next half hour of my journey thinking about all of the terrible ways my life could end from that cool metal sliding into my essential organs before being swiftly pulled out.

I completely lost it the second I met my dad at the gate of the uncharacteristically calm airport. He came off the plane beaming; he was so excited to be in India for the first time.

I began instantly weeping, and continued to do so for the entirety of the first two days of his visit. I confessed my feelings of anxiety and dependence upon Xanax. I tried weaning myself off of Xanax with his support, but his presence could not stop the withdrawal effects. I had constant headaches and debilitating waves of panic; my appetite disappeared and the tears just wouldn’t stop.

***

On the third night of his visit, we went for a walk in a beautifully preserved ancient garden. We watched the sunset as we sat on top of a structure that had occupied that space since the days of the Mughal Empire. I could not relax in the slightest or even notice the natural painting that lay before me. I sat in an auto-rickshaw with him and sobbed like I had not sobbed since I was a child.

He asked me why I had come to India, especially for six months.

“To try to fight inequality,” I bullshitted.

“How?” he asked.

And I could not provide him with even the simplest of answers; I honestly did not know.

“You came to run away from yourself,” he told me. “And I think you’re learning the hard way, that whatever you’re running away from will always catch up with you.”

He told me that the most glaring indicator of someone being mentally unwell is their complete self-centeredness and inability to speak about anything beyond themselves; for that entire week all I could talk or think about was how miserable I felt.

I remembered years before in high school when one of my friends had joked about my party boy-Valedictorian ways, “You have the most imbalanced existence of anyone I’ve ever met.” And here I was, years later, an ivy-league student abroad who had decided to come to India to pursue interests of social justice, but was instead spending his days drinking whiskey, taking Xanax and crying. I realized that he was right.

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***

And now I lay in the hospital bed, having a teen-celebrity-style-substance-abuse-induced-breakdown in a windowless room. I tried to recount exactly how I had gotten to this point. I had always had a susceptibility to overwhelming anxiety and a slight tendency for self-medication – a Klonopin before a flight or a glass of wine when I was wound up before bed – but never would I have imagined myself having to be sedated through an injection because I was so terribly certain that I was on the brink of untimely death.

Over and over, I used the same piece of aging prescription paper to refill my stash. The first bottle of “take as needed” pills was only supposed to last a few weeks, but I had been taking quadruple dosages for months. I jokingly referred to the small change pocket of my wallet where I kept my Xanax as the “Land of Naughtiness;” it was an attempt to deflect attention from a glaring addiction.

I’ll take Valium to detox from Xanax, I convinced myself.

Becoming overconfident, I had tried to write myself a prescription for Valium on a piece of loose-leaf paper. When I took it to the chemist, the old man behind the counter had narrowed his eyes as he shook his head at my pathetic attempt. “No!” he said, wagging his finger in my face. I snatched the paper from his hand and left in a huff.

During my dad’s stay, I weaned myself off of the medication, but within a week or two of his leaving I relapsed. The whole experience shook my entire perception of an addict’s mentality. I was not in denial of being addicted to Xanax; in fact I was completely aware. I had reached a point where I believed I did not know how else to survive during my time in India.

I must attempt to make the addiction as functional as possible until I can return home, I told myself. When I’m home I’ll have access to an abundance of readily available psychotherapists and psychiatrists who can fix me.

But, I never thought to ask myself why I was so broken.

***

It had all begun in the most unsuspecting of ways. After spending a day shopping, my friends and I decided to have dinner in some nondescript, poorly lit, overpriced chain restaurant in an upscale Indian mall.

Midway through the meal I had a strange headache and kept losing focus; I had the terrifying sensation that my time to die was imminent. As I sat at the table and tried to continue the conversation, I kept having that same feeling as when you’re on the verge of sleep and you suddenly feel a sharp jolt of free fall until you crash back into reality.

I excused myself to go the bathroom, and started pacing in the corridor of the mall.

I can’t die outside of Gucci.

In retrospect, I had been on a massive alcohol bender, and this feeling was my first experience with withdrawal symptoms. But, at the time, all I could comprehend was that I felt like I was dying.

I finally told the others what I felt and one friend explained that I was having a panic attack, which she had suffered aplenty after experiencing a traumatic loss. “Just keep taking deep breaths and I’ll give you a Xanax when we get home,” she offered. I managed to get through the next hour by cycling deep breaths and drinking cold water. Once we got home, she slipped me the pill that I quickly popped in my mouth.

Within twenty minutes I felt calm and grounded. I was no longer afraid that I perish at any moment. Frankly, I felt happy, and realized I had not felt much but despair in weeks. I felt a relief I had missed.

And so it began.

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***

When the terrifying panic attacks, and what seemed to be a permanent tension headache, kept coming back over the next couple of days after the mall experience, I went to see the University recommended physician. After a few moments of speaking with her, she quickly wrote me a prescription for Xanax and sent me on my way. Unfortunately, she failed to mention any addictive side effects of the prescription drug, or it’s dangerous interactions with alcohol.

Blissful in my ignorance – and functionally sedated – I continued the school-boy-by-day-party-boy-by-night lifestyle that my friends and I had fallen into. But everything became much more intense. When I drank alcohol with Xanax I had intense blackouts that were like being roofied. I would wake up the morning with literally no recollection of the previous night. But, I didn’t care. I dissolved Xanax in my beer, and popped it recreationally as I took shots at clubs.

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I had to be filled in about my outlandish behaviors; I lost a shoe at brunch when I blacked out at 2 pm; I woke up under my bed; I lost multiple wallets and cameras; I cried about being financially stressed as I spent hundreds of dollars on wine in a single night at the most expensive bar in the city; I had to be carried into my apartment by a driver who was employed by my friend, like a corpse he slung me over his shoulder as he hauled my limp body up the stairs.

Even on nights that we didn’t go out, my routine was seriously affected by my medication and alcohol intake. I was anxious all of the time. I couldn’t fall asleep unless I took increasingly higher doses of Xanax.

I felt nauseous every time I ate. I began taking Xanax multiple times a day; I wanted to ensure the calm mental wave carried me from moment I woke up until the moment I fell asleep.

My moods gradually became less varied. I was no longer anxious, but I was also never especially happy or sad; I was unexpressive, blank. I felt detached from the people I loved; I was emotionally cold in a way that I never knew was possible.

One day, as I sat in an auto-rickshaw on the way to meet my friends, I observed the scenery and life of the Indian streets. It felt like a movie I was watching more than my reality. I felt so far removed from my “real” life, as though I were in some dream that wouldn’t seem to end.

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***

Now I was in a hospital bed recollecting how I had gotten there; feeling like the world’s biggest hypocrite for all of the times I had made fun of Lindsay Lohan’s “exhaustion” hospitalizations. Powering through the stifling post-sob headache that brought me back to childhood tantrums after being grounded from TV, I searched my bed for my wallet. I found it near the edge of the bed, where it had fallen out of my pocket. I picked it up and opened the “Land of Naughtiness.”

I counted my pills. 15. Just enough to make it through the last couple of days before I would finally board my plane back home.

I’ll stop taking Xanax then, I told myself as I swallowed one of the small white tablets and allowed myself to drift away.

***

* When, I got home, with psychiatric supervision, I was able to successfully end my addiction to Xanax with a medically supervised weaning and long-term transition to antidepressants.

Barbies & Shame

“The difference between shame and guilt is the difference between ‘I am bad’ and ‘I did something bad.’”

  • Brene Brown

When I think back to childhood I think of shame.

For as far back as I can remember, I always knew I was different. I preferred a Barbie to a ball. Having a sister who was is less than a year older than me made access simple and infinite.

Being born in 1990 in a post-industrial, blue-collar environment, gender-neutral parenting had not caught on yet; if it had, it was sure as hell not in Syracuse. I’m pretty sure it still isn’t.

Tonka trucks, baseballs and NERF guns were for boys. Barbies, Easy-Bake ovens and jump ropes were for girls. Boys should play football in the street; girls should go to ballet class.

This was well before I’d heard of the gender-based wage inequality, menstrual cycles and perineal tears during birth, and I couldn’t help but feel that girls had gotten the better end of the stick.

I was stubborn and unwavering. Having access to Sarah’s “girl” toys wasn’t enough; I wanted my own. I had post-hippie parents. My dad was a thoughtful, well-liked writer, an artist really, who spent half his days with his head in the clouds, and my mom was a social worker. Her rough childhood with alcoholic parents made her committed to ensuring our days of youth were more joyous.

So, it was not hard to convince my parents that, though I had an X and a Y chromosome and penis between my legs, I too needed dolls to be happy. If my parents ever tried to dissuade me, I certainly don’t recall.

Our house was a democracy; moving forward, I was indulged. When Sarah got a Barbie, I got one, too. When Sarah got Samantha from the American Girls Doll catalogue, I got Molly.

If anything, I took the doll obsession a step further. I read all of the American Girl Doll books. I had small scale Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast castles in my bedroom; I spent hours moving the almost microscopic characters around the castle grounds, lost in my own dreams that one day, like Snow White and Cinderella, I too would find a romantic partner who would provide me with immeasurable wealth, incomparable real estate and unending emotional validation.

***

My little brother was always such a boy, in the traditional sense. His first word was “ball.” He was a natural athlete, excelling at baseball, basketball and football from the time he could walk.

Every year, for birthdays and holidays, I would ask for dolls or princess castles, and most every year, that was what I was given.

It was an act of rebellion. I saw how grown men looked at my presents, and my stomach would tense inside as I would feel embarrassed; I would want to cry. I could have just waited to get them at home on my birthday or Christmas morning, in the privacy and safety of my immediate family. But, something in my early childhood head wanted to protest societal expectations.

Why shouldn’t I be able to get a new princess castle? Why should I have to hide it?

I kept asking to get those presents, and my parents – who I’m sure could see reactions just as well as me – kept giving them.

***

As I grew older, the rebellious spirit within me died down; I became more self-conscious about playing with “girl toys.”

You get so sick of hearing, “Why do you talk like a girl?” so you make conscious efforts to deepen your voice, to not let your sentences go up at the end.

You get so sick of hearing, “Why do you walk like a girl?” so you make sure your hips aren’t switching, you walk slower, more controlled.

You get so sick of hearing, “Why are you playing with girls’ toys?” so you just start doing it out of sight, on your own, secretly.

Other children vocalize their opinions; their preconceived notions and expectations as to what you should be, how you should behave. Adults are subtler, their judgment more discretely implied. I was so tuned into quiet, even unspoken, adult opinions.

I wanted their approval. I wanted everyone’s approval.

So, when visible, I morphed myself into what they wanted me to be; what I thought I should be.

***

My favorite Barbie was “Holiday Princess Belle,” the doll was based on Disney’s Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas – a VHS I also owned and loved. Belle came with a dark maroon lip and a velvet ball gown with gold detailing. I played with her all the time.

I eventually grew tired of her extravagant ball gown, and switched her to a cloth blue dress that I bought from Amish people at a farmer’s market. When I played with her I would hold her by the hair and spin her so the skirt of her bucolic gown ballooned out. I did this so often that her hair began coming off, revealing small bald spots. Luscious locks or receding hairline, I still loved her just the same.

For a while, Sarah, Liam and I all lived in the same room, filled with all of our toys. When Sarah moved across the hall to her own room, I let her take most of the dolls and the trunk we kept filled with Barbies and their accessories with her.

The bunk bed that I used to share with Sarah became just my own. I moved from the top bunk to the bottom, and I filled the former with a huge pile of stuffed animals.

Stuffed animals are for boys and girls, so those are fine. I can let those show.

Unbeknownst to anyone but me, I kept Belle on the top bunk, buried beneath the stuffed animals. I always knew exactly where she was.

Today she is under the Pikachu, next to the Mickey, just above the Tweety.

***

I was ashamed. By now, I was in second grade. I had been made more than well aware of what was boxed off as being made for girls and what was fair game to be used by boys. I was getting older and still wanted to play with a Barbie. An intense secretiveness shrouded my playing with Belle. Sarah had mostly stopped playing with Barbies, and I announced to my parents that I had too. It was time for me to grow up.

But, in my heart, all I wanted to do was play with Belle.

***

One morning, before school, I thought I was upstairs alone. I sat on my bed, humming and twirling Belle by her hair.

I heard a rustling in the hall. My heart dropped. I peered out.

Who is that?

The door to my room started creaking open, and I quickly tried to stash Belle in between the bed and the wall. It was too late. My mom had seen me.

“Honey, I saw you playing with that Barbie,” she said. “Why do you feel like you have to hide it?”

I had been tranquil just a moment before. I immediately burst into tears, the kind of uncontrollable sobbing where you can’t even form a sentence.

“I d-d-d-on’t…I d-d-d-on’t want to talk about it,” I cried. “Why were you spying on me? Can’t you just pretend you didn’t see?”

“I wasn’t spying on you. I could see into your room as I walked up the stairs,” she explained softly. “Why are you so upset?”

“I know it’s a girl toy,” I said. “ Sometimes I just wish I had been born a girl; my life would be so much easier.”

“Do you think you are a girl on the inside?” she asked gently, concerned.

“NO!” I shouted. “I want to play with girls’ toys, but I don’t want to be a girl!”

I continued to cry harder and harder; I was having a panic attack, an identity crisis. I couldn’t wrap my head around why everything and everyone has to stay so tightly boxed-in.

She started crying too.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I was just trying to help.”

***

With my room no longer feeling like a safe space, I began hiding Belle even deeper amongst the jumbled heap of stuffed animals.

After careful scouting to absolutely make sure no one was proximate or observing, I would pull her out and stuff her into my armpit, shielding her beneath my billowy t-shirt. I would lock her head into my sweaty crevice and quickly creep to the bathroom. I would lock the door and play with her without anyone watching.

I took Belle into the bath with me, letting her stand beneath the spout as I imagined it was some beautiful waterfall in the fantasyland that I created for her in my mind.

Afterwards, I would towel her off, stick her back into my armpit and bring her back to my room where I put her back beneath my stuffed animals.

***

This secret playing went on for months. Then, one day, I heard my mom say hi from outside of the bathroom. I was taking a bath and thought I was home alone and had forgotten to bring anything in besides a towel.

Where can I hide her where no one can see? Can I keep her beneath between my thighs and still walk normally? No. Can I hide her in here?

Our bathroom was rather small, and there was not a hiding spot where I didn’t fear my mom might see her again. I really didn’t want to have to have another conversation about why I was secretive about Belle. Even if she didn’t bring it up, I hated that sense of awareness that there was something another person wanted to talk to you about. That it was in their mind and on the tip of their tongue.

I had a plan.

“I’ll be right out!” I shouted to my mom. I took Belle and brought her over to the roll of toilet paper. I began slowly unrolling it and wrapping her up; I mummified her. What better disguise? When I was done, I emptied the wastebasket and jammed her into the bottom. I covered her with the empty toilet paper rolls that had been sitting there from before.

I flushed the toilet washed my hands and scurried out.

***

That afternoon, I got distracted playing Sega. An hour passed, and I suddenly remembered Belle.

I darted up the stairs to the wastebasket. It was empty!

I hurried downstairs to check the kitchen trashcan. It was empty too! The trash had been brought outside.

I opened the back door and sprinted across the yard to where the garbage cans were lined up in between the garage and the fence.

There were four garbage cans, and they were all filled near to the brim with giant white trash bags.

I can rummage through these, I thought. I can find Belle. I can save her.

But something within me made me hold back.

No, I thought. It’s over; Belle’s gone.

I turned around and walked back to the house. I felt like I had lost a friend, but sometimes losing a friend can also be a relief. I didn’t get to say goodbye, but in a way I did.

Did I mean to hide her, or did I mean to throw her out?

I mummified her and put her in the wastebasket. I disposed of her like trash, and like trash she was taken away to rot in some landfill.

Well, actually, she was plastic, so like the dog toys in the bushes that were still there after Autumn had passed, I knew she might not ever rot. She’d rather just sit there forever, melting beneath the summer sun’s glare, and becoming ever frigid in the winter’s biting winds. Fading from the light, the rain, and the melting snow. She would become just a faceless, balding, piece of plastic.

That was her fate, the fate I had delivered to her. Should I feel guilty now? Should I feel guilty that it felt like a weight had been lifted?

Should I feel sorry for her, or should I feel sorry for me? Should I feel sorry that Belle was now just a part of my past?

***

In retrospect, it is undeniable how my behaviors surrounding Belle foreshadowed my later struggles with alcohol, drugs and sex. The way I hid Belle paralleled the bottle of vodka I kept hidden beneath a floorboard in my parent’s attic, the bottles of wine I hid in my closet at school, the prescription pills I kept in crumpled up Ziploc bags in my underwear drawer. The absolute secrecy, emotional reclusion and anxiety mirrored my sexual encounters that I later would feel in my heart were wrong, unhealthy, but would continue to have anyways. The emotional volatility with which I reacted to being confronted looked a lot like a countless conversations I had from ages fifteen to twenty two.

And the way I cried so much that my mom would never bring it up again, well, that defense repeated itself with many people, regarding many matters, for many, many years.

Childhood

When visiting for my graduate school commencement ceremony, I drove a few of my friends from New York around my hometown. We were coming from downtown Syracuse, and we had to pass through the Near West Side on the way to my parent’s house. We drove up Onondaga Street past the housing projects and crumbling mansions that once were regal when Syracuse didn’t have the “post” in front of industrial in its description.

I turned and brought them up Summit. We passed a “Welcome to Strathmore” sign that had been commissioned by a neighborhood association.

“This is where my neighborhood starts,” I told them.

“Are we still in the city?” they asked as we drove along a flowering tree-lined street of mansions.

“Yup,” I replied as I turned onto Crossett and then Roberts, which overlooks Onondaga Park’s Hiawatha Lake, with a white gazebo floating on an island accessible only by a footbridge.

“I’ve gotta tell you, Shame,” my friend, Annie, observed. “This is pretty nice. The way you talk about your dark childhood, I pictured District 12 from the Hunger Games. But this, it’s pretty picturesque.”

I didn’t respond, but looked at the neighborhood through fresh eyes, as I had been trying to do since coming home to study arts journalism for a year at the Newhouse School at Syracuse University.

Like washing a window in an attic after decades of negligence, it had taken me a long time to break through the layers of emotional dust and dirt, the loathing and pain, and get down to the clear glass. But, I was finally able to look at the streets on which I had grown up and see them for what they were: The streets on which I had fallen and stood up.

I often try to discern whether I had a happy or sad childhood, but of course it’s not so different. You can retrace the events in your mind, or like me you can drive through and point out milestones, the good and the bad.

“Look! That grassy lawn next to the church is where I learned to ride my bike without training wheels and that house up on the hill is where I gave my first blow job!”

“Oh wow, there’s the bush that I crouched behind every night we played flash light tag after dark where hiding by yourself was just as solitary and creepy as being ‘it.’ Oh, oh! And over there, yes, right there in that parking lot next to the ice cream shop is where I was put into the back of a police car!”

And some locations of our childhood are not so simple; they do not hold just memories that are solely favorable nor memories that strictly disdainful, they hold both.

“My dad, Sarah and I would take our dog, Autumn, for walks up into that little thicket of woods. Just off the path there were two trees, and the way they bent to grow toward the sun over the years has left them in a permanent embrace; forever entwined. We called them the kissing trees and I took a picture of them on my polaroid camera that I won in a raffle, and I used a glue stick to paste them into my scrapbook and scribbled ‘kissing trees’ in blue marker just below!”

But, then you take a minute and the smog rolls back in, maybe slowly, maybe barely, maybe just for a minute, but it is back, and it makes you remember. You will never forget.

“Oh, yes,” you might say, or maybe just think. “Just down here, in the long parking lot below the kissing trees, where there are streetlights. but they don’t do much when the sun goes down, this is where I lost my virginity. It was in a parked car, in that car’s backseat, with a boy who I didn’t like very much, and definitely didn’t love, though I told him I did. And it hurt, physically yes it hurt, but even worse, it made me feel a little dead on the inside, like a shell that had been picked up, fawned over and then left on the beach; it’s not like I wanted to be kept, I just wanted to be put back where I once was.”

Sometimes it’s trying to recall, but it would sting so much more to let it slip away. The streets of my youth were just made of pavement and grass, of houses and the people within. They could have been anywhere, I thought, but I knew I was wrong. It had all begun here, right here. This is where I had bloomed and burst, faltered and flown.

Possessed

Troubled.

I was troubled. When I let it show it was shocking, disturbing, because there was another side. There was a happy, healthy person in there too, but he was being eaten alive, unable to do damage control for himself.

On paper, I was high achieving, popular, friendly and warm. I was my high school valedictorian, and then I was a student at Brown.

People would ask: How do you have so many close friends? How do you maintain so many genuine friendships?

If someone was upset, I’d often be the first person they’d call. I was sympathetic, empathetic and actually listening. I loved my friends and family so much, I’d feel their pain; I’d offer advice so deeply thought out, as though what was at stake for them was at stake for me.

If you didn’t see my medical records, if you only knew me from afar, you might have thought I had it all together. But that’s so far from the truth. I was like a wildfire, tempestuous, unpredictable and uncontrollable. But, if you didn’t get too close, not only would you not get burnt, you might it even think it was beautiful, fascinating.

***

From puberty, from the onset of my sexuality and the awareness of its implications, a civil war raged within me; I was trying to destroy myself, while I was trying to save myself, and the resulting personality inconsistencies were noticeable, tangible. I was respected; there was a part of me that was a leader. I cared about fighting injustice; I worked with immigrants, refugees and the formerly incarcerated. I wanted to be a human rights lawyer and eventually a politician. I was bold and brave; I’d go out of my way to stand up for my friends.

But, I was also feared. There was a part of me that was awful, monstrous. Many mornings my friends would verbatim tell me that I had behaved demonically the night before. I believe it. I was possessed by self-loathing; I was possessed by despair; I was possessed by addiction.

The addiction empowered the bad parts of me I worked so hard by day to repress – the insecurities, resentments, fears and jealousy; it injected them with steroids and armed them with weapons of mass destruction before setting them free from their usually padlocked cells. They ran rampant and free. They attacked people, and in the morning they attacked me. I would curl up into a ball, confused shaking and crying. I would regret the words I spewed, the things I did. But being an alcoholic is like having Stockholm syndrome, and alcohol is your captor. I had brief glimpses of clarity where I admitted to myself that alcohol was ruining my life, but I’d scoff at myself moments later for being so hyperbolic.

Alcohol is what makes my life happy and magical. Alcohol is how I have fun, how I find release. If I’m misbehaving while drunk I don’t need to change my drinking habits, I need to change the essence of my flawed being.

When I was drunk, I was so aggressive, physically and verbally. When sober, I liked to be liked, perhaps too much. Maybe sometimes I bite my tongue too much, smile at things I don’t find funny; I am a master at burying negative thoughts; an expert at locking my lips, turning them up into a smile and pretending everything is fine.

But, one cannot bury their feelings; well, you can, but you are burying them alive. And the grave is always so much more shallow than you thought, the lock on your lips so much looser, so much weaker; it lusts to be unlatched.

Just add wine, and my feelings would shatter the coffin I thought I had so tightly nailed shut. I’d feel them making their great escape. My stomach would drop. My face would flush. I could feel them brewing in my core. I could feel them searching for the way out.

I’ll drink so much that I’ll wash them away.

But, by now they’re loose; they’re wild. They could swim, and the wine only lifted them closer to my throat, nearer to my brain.

My throat would constrict as they made their way up. Now, they’re in my brain. They feed off of alcohol, off of inhibition, and I’ve given them a royal feast.

Get out of my brain. Get out of my mind. Get out of my thoughts.

But, it’s too late they’ve taken over. They’re taking over my body; they’ve taken over. I’m no longer calling the shots; I’m weak, passive, willing.

They’re in my mouth now, making my tongue move, and when the fury flies out, when the tear ducts open like the Hoover Dam, I’m confused.

That voice sounds so much like me. These tears are my own. This is me speaking; this is me feeling.

I didn’t feel this way earlier, but it’s so consuming, so powerful; it must be real.

I would commit. My drunken distortion was my new reality. What had earlier been a minor annoyance was now the end of the world.

“YOU’VE WRONGED ME!” I’d scream. “FUCK YOU!”

“I’LL KILL MYSELF!” I’d shake as I announced my decision. I meant it. “YOU DON’T ACTUALLY LOVE ME!”

Maybe I’d pass out, or maybe I’d throw up. Maybe I’d text people in my phone until I found someone to come over and press their naked body against mine, to enter me, until I passed out or threw up.

In the morning I’d wake up after a dreamless sleep and half admit I’d behaved like Pazuzu in Reagan MacNeil’s body. I had no Father Karras to rescue me, to extract the demon.

Besides, I welcomed the demon; I opened the door and let it in.

The demon was me.

So, I’d have mental breakdowns; maybe I’d feel ashamed, or maybe I’d feel violated. Many times I felt nothing at all.

A part of me was dead, but I’d murdered it, so who was I to mourn?

It is what it is.

Anyone who tried to save me I’d verbally attack or shun. I manipulated and intimidated, pacified and lied.

I got my wish. People stopped trying to help.

No one knew what to do but watch me flounder and hope I’d wake up one-day and raise the white flag to myself.