THIS, THAT, AND THE OTHER THING
THE SUNLIGHT ZONE
IToday starts out like any other day. Your iPhone alarm sounds at 7:30 and you, having been awake since 5:00, reluctantly peel yourself away from Milo enough so that you can press snooze. Milo mumbles something incoherent when you curl back up next to him, making you smile, and you respond by brushing his hair away from his neck, pressing your lips against his jaw and working your way down to his collarbone. He groans about not wanting to move, about wanting to spend the morning in bed with you despite your responsibilities, but after ten minutes, it’s him who has to drag you out of bed and into the shower, and contrary to what you remember him telling you he wanted when you first told him you were in love with him— “… I want long showers with my head on your shoulder until the water goes cold…” —you rest your head on his shoulder through most of it. It’s the kind of closeness you never realized you needed until he made you to open yourself up to it and the kind of closeness you’ll miss all day, long after he kisses you goodbye. It’s the only silence you’ve felt comfortable in since you stopped drinking. Not enough time later, while you drive to the treatment center, you turn on the radio for white noise and pretend that today is like any other day - even though it isn’t.
IIToday is the tenth day of your thirty day stint in outpatient treatment, and the tenth day is the day your therapist tells you what underlying mental health problems you have in addition to your alcoholism - “if” you have underlying mental health problems. You’ve suspected since day one that you would be a dual diagnosis patient, and because of this, you never anticipated that you would feel nervous when the day came for a professional to confirm your suspicions. However, all you can think about in the hours before your weekly session with Dr. Stone is the sheer number of things that could be wrong with you, the sheer number of things that could have been the root cause of the cascading failures that led to your being here. You coast through your morning groups in a stupor, paying minimal attention, speaking only when your counselors or peers ask you a direct question, and by the time Dr. Stone calls you into his office, you’re as mentally exhausted from psychoanalyzing yourself as you - probably - are mentally ill. You sit across from him at his desk, much like you used to sit across from your boss at Turn! Turn! Turn!, but without alcohol to make you brave, you feel like a fraction of your former self, like prey in need of protection from predatory thoughts and emotions coming out of hibernation. Though you can remember the pain of loving Milo when you thought he didn’t love you back, you can’t remember the last time you felt this much - a dark amalgamation of anxiety and fear and sadness and anger, enough to make you want to fold in on yourself and never unfurl. You keep your eyes down and wonder if this is how Milo feels when he doesn’t take his Xanax. Then, Dr. Stone begins to speak. You expect him to diagnose you with depression. You are depressed. You’ve been depressed. Even Nora had seen it, back when your friendship was new and you were regaling her with your nihilistic bullshit in a misguided effort to get into her pants. What you don’t expect is for him to diagnose you with The Other Thing as well as depression, and when he does, you find yourself withdrawing into the isolation tank inside your head. His words become distorted…
… like you’re hearing them underwater.“—but it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you in the sense that you’re broken or defective,” he says, his voice cutting through the haze after what feels like several minutes. “It just means you’re—” Wired differently. It’s a speech you recognize, one you’ve given Milo countless times, one you’ve always believed, but for some reason, it’s not as convincing this time. For some reason, being wired differently and something being wrong are not mutually exclusive when it comes to you. “It can be difficult to diagnose, but based on your medical history, your intake interview, and what I’ve observed in your—” You’re sinking.
Your lungs are filling with fluid like they did when you contracted pneumonia at eight years old.
Your mouth is filling with blood like it did when you were punched in the teeth at fifteen.
You can’t breathe.
You’re drowning.Then, a sharp pain in your hand brings you back to the surface. Without realizing it, you’ve been digging your right thumb nail into the soft skin between your left thumb and index finger, and now you’ve dug so deep that you’ve made yourself bleed. The blood pools there for a moment before you pull the sleeves of your shirt down over your hands and, finally, look up at Dr. Stone. “S-Sorry, I, um— what did you say?” “I asked if you have any questions.” He says, eying you with concern less clinical than you would’ve guessed. “Oh.” You shake your head, looking down again. “No.” “I know it can be a lot to take in at first. Do you want to talk about what you’re feeling?” You shake your head a second time. “No, thanks,” you say. “I don’t want to talk at all, if that’s okay.” You sit in silence for the remainder of your session, but when your time is up, Dr. Stone hands you a prescription for antidepressants and a composition notebook, instructing you to fill as many of its pages as you can before your next meeting on the seventeenth day. “Sometimes, writing things down can be easier than talking about them,” he says. Where have you heard that before?
IIIOn any other day, you would be disappointed to get home before Milo, but today isn’t like any other day. Today is the day you find out you’re more fucked up inside than you ever knew. You sit on your couch with your laptop and type The Other Thing into Google. The website you click on first isn’t WebMD or something more reputable - frankly, it’s something less reputable - but you decide to answer the question it poses regardless. Do you identify with the following statements? Yes. Yes. Yes. I don’t know. Yes. Yes. Yes. I’m not sure. Shit. Later, when Milo steps through the front door and asks you about your day, you only tell him that it was long. You don’t want to talk about it. You don’t want to talk at all. You close your laptop and push it aside so that you can get up from the couch to greet him, pulling him in by his belt loops and kissing him fervently enough to - you hope - make you both forget about the time you spent apart. You don’t break the kiss until your arms are wound around each other and you’re both starving for air. “Did you miss me or something?” He asks, breathless and smiling, before leaning in to kiss your neck like you kissed his too many hours earlier. You squeeze your eyes shut and grip him like you would a life preserver, gathering the fabric of his tee shirt in your bandaged fist, and will the waves not to drag you under. “Or something.”