My love life, on and off drugs.
Growing up, I thought I was going to die every single day. It wasn't the kind of fear that kept me looking over my shoulder every minute, but rather a grim acceptance that the end was near and that I needed to come to terms with my life. The exact nature of my demise proved to be a fixation of mine: scenario after scenario streamed on repeat in my head. When I was driving, I envisioned an enormous grizzly bear running into the road, smashing into my car, and then feasting on my body. When I showered, I thought about how I would slip on the wet tile and crack my head open on the faucet. This fixation on the end carried over into my love life: every relationship was ill-fated and anxiety-stricken from the start.
My first serious relationship was with Sara, the girl I thought I was going to marry. On the surface, we were compatible and cute, but further down, we were perfectly awful for each other. She went to a college close to mine and we made the choice to spend every moment together, foregoing friends, sunlight, and socializing. Our dual anxieties complimented each other: we could quell each other’s panic attacks the same way smoking cigarettes quells hunger. Sara and I lived in my bed freshman year — I can count on my fingers the number of times we ventured outside in the daylight. Sara met my every attempt to make friends or pursue hobbies with hostility. When I started getting into filmmaking, I'd spend hours helping my friends shoot their projects and would come back to my dorm room to her fuming.
“Where were you?”
“Oh, I was just helping Matt with this thing.”
“Yeah, I mean it takes kind of while to shoot…”
“I was fucking bored all day!”
“So why didn't you just go back to your dorm?”
“We were supposed to hang out!”
“We hang out every day…”
What I should have said was something like, “I'm sorry, but this is what I wanted to do today. It makes me happy and I like doing it. I should've told you it was going to take a while.” But that was how we communicated. I never got the chance to tell her why sitting in a dark room for hours watching TV wasn't conducive to me feeling better — or that getting berated about leaving said dark room added to my anxiety to the point where I felt like I was walking on eggshells every time I had friends over to my chamber-of-sadness dorm room. My five-year romance with Sara consisted of nonstop fights, insults, make-up sex, and ill-attempted dates. It eventually ended when she moved away and I found myself alone.
Eventually, I got tired of waking up feeling like I had a ton of concrete on my shoulders, and it took less than ten minutes with a psychiatrist to produce a diagnosis: severe anxiety disorder. The prescribed treatment was two small pills (clonazepam and oxcarbazepine), taken at bedtime. Barely a month into my treatment, I noticed a complete change in my behavior. I was speaking more slowly and intelligibly, without my usual whirlwind of fragments and abrupt segues. Overall, I felt extremely… pleasant. I felt myself becoming outgoing and social ― I could converse without the fear that no one could understand me.
The biggest change, though, was my ability to connect with people ― specifically, hu-man female people. My first “on-drugs” date was with a tall, sweet girl named Cindy who I met on the internet. We went on a few dates and eventually ended up in a relationship. She was, admittedly, very much my type ― quirky, silly, and friendly. What was different, though, was the way I felt about her: I didn’t feel the need I was used to; (the flame, as Cheap Trick put it), but rather a calm, slow-burning smolder.
I cared very much for her and really enjoyed her company, but our relationship just kind of… coasted. We never fought, we were rarely outwardly affectionate, and we would occasionally go days without contact without any hard feelings. We ended up drifting apart, like continents.
Our last day together was spent walking through a grocery store.
“God it's cold in New York!”
“You're back! How was it?”
And then… that was it. We still text each other on birthdays.
Life was like that when I was taking my medicine ― weirdly quiet. I felt like my anxiety was an imaginary friend, now yanked from my life. If I had to compare it to a movie, my first choice would be Heart & Soul with Robert Downey, Jr., where all his ghost friends decide they have to turn invisible. (That actually looks a lot stranger typed out than I meant it to, but you get the point.)
After nearly a year on Clonazepam and Oxcarbazepine, a combination of laziness and lack of money resulted in my failure to re-order my drugs. Unfortunately, the former is a habit-forming drug that causes some uncomfortable side-effects when the supply is cut off. For days, it felt like I had stuck my head in a blender. I was constantly wired, shaky, and exhausted all at once. The withdrawal symptoms only lasted for a week before I began to feel like “old me” again. It was strange, feeling nostalgia for the way my brain used to work. Still, it didn't feel exactly how things had been before I’d started my drugs. Maybe I was just growing up, or maybe I’d evolved after experiencing life on prescription pills. Either way, I was interested in taking this new brain for a test drive in the dating world.
Without much planning, this “test drive” came in the form Abby. Abby and I had been friends for a long time in Connecticut, and kindled a romance when she visited me in Brooklyn. We started texting back and forth after she visited and I found myself glued to my phone every night. We would have long conversations, without ever actually speaking. I felt like a giddy teenager, and sure enough, my old habits crept back into our weird pseudo-relationship.
I would sit in my room and visions of my freshman year would come back to me. Of being with someone and being alone all at the same time. Of spending an embarrassingly long time crafting text messages, like, “I wish you were here with me. We could watch stupid movies and do karaoke.”
Then, when Abby wouldn't text me back, I wouldn’t assume that she was unable to get to the phone. Nor would I jump to conclusions within the “normal” range of paranoia, like that she was cheating. No, instead, I’d be wracked with fear that she’d died, victim of an aberrant stroke or possibly my old friend the grizzly attack. Of course, she'd eventually text me back:
“Hey! Sorry I was showering — aw, I'd love to do karaoke with you.”
I’d fallen back into old patterns: here I was putting an absurd amount of time and emotional investment into a girl in a different state, months after I’d let a real, here-and-now relationship disintegrate while on my medication. I recognized how wrongheaded that was, but recognition didn’t change the way I felt. Ultimately, I had to stop things: there was sadness on both sides, but in the spirit of self-growth, the whole codependent mess had to be euthanized.
I’m older now. I have a steady job that lets me afford drugs, and I’m back on said drugs. Dating while on and off my medication taught me that I'm not like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde — more aptly (and deliciously), it's like the difference between hot pizza and cold pizza. But it also taught me about the dangers of idealizing any one state of mind, or way of being. On meds, I missed the passion (read: craziness) that had been the norm. Off meds, I just wanted to be able to think straight.
Now, life is mostly about dealing with my odd tics, idiosyncracies, and droopy left eye (unrelated to medication, but worth mentioning), and trying to find a girl who can, too. If she ends up being someone with as much anxiety as me, so be it. Or if she has her life together and could never possibly understand what I'm going through, but will put up with me anyway, how could I turn someone like that down? My problems (and my meds) will always be there. I just have to find someone who'll be there too.