I’m always writing, but there was a three-week period a while back when I didn’t write any comedy, because I was enjoying a much-needed nervous breakdown, and I didn’t feel particularly funny.
This wasn’t my first time dealing with anxiety. Several years ago, I called a friend because I was having all the usual forty-year-old-guy-who-laughs-at-things-like-exercise-and-diet symptoms—shortness of breath, palpitations, etc. Took me to the emergency room. Check that—we actually had to spend an hour in the emergency room waiting room. Now, I’m not a health care professional, but I know a thing or two about words, and I’m pretty sure the word ‘emergency’ implies NO WAITING!
So there I am, in the middle of a panic attack, and I’m sitting next to some guy with a lawn dart stuck in his head, people wailing like extras from “The Snake Pit,” and the only thing to distract me from this Miltonian Hell is a TV which is showing (and I assure you I am not making this up) a rerun of “Highway to Heaven”! Yeah, that’s what you want to watch when you’re worried about dying—a cancelled show about the afterlife starring a dead guy!
I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder. Generalized. Yeah, thanks for narrowing it down, doc. “Well, my considered opinion, Mister Comedy, is that you’re anxious about some things…just—in general.” Now I’ve always been a drama queen, but this was tangible proof of what I’d been saying for years—that a lot of things freak me out. (if I currently work for you or you were planning to hire me in the future…um…I’m fine).
Here’s a joke you can tell around the water cooler:
Two guys with generalized anxiety disorder walk into a bar. They look around the bar until one of them notices something. Their palms start to sweat, and then they leave.
While I wasn’t exactly thrilled to have an actual signed piece of paper attesting to my mental illness, I did want some help. So, they send me to the pharmacy and I pick up a two week supply of Xanax, or as it’s known by its common name, Holy Crap I’m Way Too Mellow This Kinda Scares Me Should I Be This Sluggish Why Can’t I Move My Arms.
Now understand, I’m skittish about drugs to begin with (yes, I realize that booze and weed are drugs but you know damn well what I’m talking about stop judging me alright fine I drink too much and I’m a pothead are you happy now?). For some reason, pills scare me, and one night, when I was battling insomnia, and the vodka didn’t knock me out, I decided to take a Benedryl.
Over the counter, just twenty-five milligrams, but since the bottle says ‘avoid alcohol,’ which I hadn’t, I didn’t know if it would be safe. So I actually called a 24 hour Walgreens to ask the pharmacist on duty if I could ignore the contraindication without, say, dying. He said I should be fine, and pointed out that the bottle also says that taking Benedryl after consuming alcohol may increase drowsiness, which was, after all, sorta the point.
But Xanax—that’s a whole different kind of relaxed. I can see why people start eating them like candy. Thankfully, the clinic wouldn’t renew my prescription, so I had to look for other ways to deal with anxiety. With the help of some good friends, and a little tune-up at the Walk-In Counseling Center, I went back to simply being irresponsible, impulsive and OCD.
Flash forward to a couple Thanksgivings ago, and I wake up crying. And I cry all day. Now holidays were never that big a deal for me, what with the only child thing, and the no parents thing. (note: there will be more funny in just a bit). But every year it feels a bit worse, and the last thing I want in late December is to be reminded of ‘family’ Unfortunately, during the holiday season, there’s no way to escape it. Every show on network tv has their ‘Christmas episode’ with images right of Rockwell (Norman, the painter–not George, the American Nazi Party guy)
From the end of November until New Year’s, it’s like a fat lady from Berlin is sitting on my chest—“Submit to the holidays! You vill submit! You must haf a family dinner!” TV should show holiday specials for single lonely people: Hallmark Hall of Fame Presents: Chinese Takeout and Netflix—What Christmas Means To Me.
The anxiety attacks came back, and it wasn’t just the holiday thing that had me agitated. I was freaking out about my health. Every muscle twitch, every tingle now feels like a reminder that a) I’m old and b) I’ve never treated my body like a temple…maybe a rec room, but not a temple.
I thought it was odd that, after years of living in crisis mode, and not feeling depressed, now that I had good creative energy and a place to call home, suddenly I was having anxiety attacks again. Then I figured it out. When you’re in survival mode, you don’t spend a lot of time feeling depressed and scared. When you’re checking the pants in your closet for change so you can have bus fare, you don’t do a lot of brooding about big-picture stuff. Apparently, I now have the luxury of depression.Woo fucking hoo.
So I’m finally taking some steps toward fixing whatever mental widget is broken, figuring out why I go into ‘fight-or-flight’ mode when I’m not, in fact, being chased by a tiger. I started therapy then, and I’ve been really making an attempt to be open to the process, be present, have a plan, set realistic goals, and…learn other clichés. I’m not sure if I’m willing to try any of those fancy big-city brain drugs they have, but on the other hand, if they’ve got one that’ll help me get out of bed before noon, I’ll give it some thought.
Hey, what the hell, now that I’ve dealt with the whole anxiety thing, maybe I’ll actually see a doctor about my bum leg, and my arm that doesn’t really work…like arms are supposed to. But I’m a little scared, and if I see one leech, I’m outta there.