My Big Weird Secret Makes me the Greatest Pretender You Know
One thousand miles round-trip. We planned to avoid much of I-95 and take the scenic route up US-301 through lush, warm Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware. Cross the Potomac, the Chesapeake Bay, and the Delaware River. Stop at a mom-and-pop roadside diner half-way for some local flavor. Windows down. No rush. We could reach our destination in southwest New Jersey in a day. A perfectly manageable distance.
Not this time. This time would not be manageable at all. This time those miles lead me to my uncle’s funeral. This time I am uncertain I can make this trip.
It’s no longer a secret that depression has shadowed me for more years than I care to count. Even better, I have double the fun with its companion, Anxiety. A twofer; it’s a bargain really, this social anxiety disorder. It particularly plagues me when I have to be in social situations. Hence the clever name. Large groups or small, it doesn’t discriminate. And not just any people, most especially people I know, most intensely with my own family. Beyond any other issue, that makes me feel like a crazy person.
When my father calls with the news that he’s lost his only brother, there is no question of what I must do. There is no choice. He wants to leave in fifteen hours to attend the service. Of course he does. But I don’t. I can’t. And “I can’t” repeats in my head until there’s nothing else but the chanting and darkness and gut-churning fear.
I’m not incapable of empathy or compassion. My heart honestly hurts for him and I can only begin to imagine how he might feel. It’s not only the grief, he’s the last man standing. A solitary soldier. And my cousins. It’s only been 19 months since they lost their mother and now their father’s gone. Such profound sorrow.
While he talks I silently fight for him, for my cousins. I dig deep. It’s not about me. It’s not about me. It’s not about me. I should go. But there will be people. He’s 82 years old. Lots of people. He’s grieving. Three days with people. He’s my father. Eighteen hours in the car emotionally exposed. I’m his daughter. I can’t. He should not have to travel alone to bury his brother.
I am not contemptible. I say the words, “I’m going with you, Dad.”
He asks, “Do you want to?”
What? No. Of course I don’t want to. I’d rather go to my own funeral. “I’ll do whatever you need, Dad. Tell me what you need and I’ll do it.”
I have volunteered for that in which I invest enormous effort to avoid, or at least carefully manage, every day of my life. Direct human contact. I am overcome with nauseating, blinding panic. Better now at home and alone than a public meltdown. I cry, I hyperventilate. I cannot think. I cannot pack. And when I’m thoroughly disgusted, despising my snotty sweaty self, I commence the exhausting task of beating down my anxiety and putting it away. I don’t have much time to do it. I’ve wasted it with spineless sniveling. I begin my old mantra. It’s not about me. It’s not about me. It. Is not. About. Me. It’s about what my father needs. I love him and I will do this for him.
I took the trip and attended the funeral. There were hugs and handshakes. Tears and kisses. I talked and I listened. I maintained direct eye contact. Not the psycho unblinking kind. And the world did not end. Though, there were moments when I certainly would have welcomed the apocalypse. Those were the times when I sought privacy, if only briefly, to sit quietly and find the courage to return to the group. In my heart, buried underneath all my crazy, I was delighted to reconnect with my cousins. I was relieved and encouraged that I had done the right thing. I didn't even vomit in church. The anxiety, sustained for longer than I believed I could endure, was preferable to the brutal self-loathing I would have suffered had I failed my father.
At home where I can breathe, I believe I am Master Thespian and deserve a Tony Award for my brilliant performance acting nearly normal. Better yet, a Lifetime Achievement Award. I’ll settle for a pizza. Delivery please, I don't want to go out.
While this may read like a tidy tale of overcoming adversity, adorned with a pretty bow of Hey! Now I’m cured, it is not that at all. It is a glimpse of my life in Crazy Town and the ceaseless conflict. I’m never more than a heartbeat away from the enemy.
Yet, I’m preparing for nearly three weeks on the road. My very first solo trip of this duration. Nashville, Dodge City, Cripple Creek, Santa Fe, Memphis. I can explore wherever I want. Places I love and places I’ve never seen. I've enjoyed months of anticipation and planning. Studying photography techniques, researching destinations off the beaten path. Behind the wheel I’m born again and it's exhilarating. Perhaps even a little dangerous. After all, I have concert tickets and I’m taking a four-day class. Meeting people. Confronting fear like a badass. It’s going to be epic.