DISPATCHES FROM THE PROZAC RABBIT HOLE: Is This What It’s Like To Be Other People?

This is the first time I haven't weirded all over myself in public. Here's hoping it won't be the last.

Apr 17, 2014 at 5:00pm | Leave a comment

I’m visiting my sister who lives in Chicago when I go up to 30 milligrams. I’m visiting her for St. Patrick’s Day which is an important holiday to her and her fiance’s family. They are a great Irish clan from the South Side and annually hold a massive in-home mass, followed by breakfast, followed by the town’s local parade, and then an all-night party to end all other all-night parties.

My sister is getting married in June, and I’m her maid of honor. She’s talked about St. Patrick’s Day with her soon-to-be in-laws as long as she’s known them, and it seemed like a great year to go and see it for myself. We’re not Irish, my family. Stokes can be an Irish name, but even then it belongs to English oppressors who came over with Cromwell and carried cudgels. This is the exact opposite of being Irish. 

The Stokes family is so proud of its English heritage. We all look like a cross between a hobbit and a scone. We make pithy jokes about the Tudors and nurture deep, aching grudges against each other for years. We’re all or nothing.  I have cousins I would not recognize on the street.

I’m still perversely proud of us. My own pasty clan means the world to me even if we are all up our asses a fair amount. And we are.

We’re snobs. No, not snobs. That’s a charming cop-out, a self-deprecating way of acknowledging that we're conceited without outright admitting that it's wrong to think we’re superior. Let’s call it what it is -- we’re assholes. Socially, at any rate. We wear our nerves outside our bodies but thankfully, the sticks up our asses usually inhibit any impulse to show we’re feeling much of anything.

 

I wish I was Irish. I wish I could sing ballads and visit the home country and sneer at the wastrels who make a mockery of our fair Isle on St. Patrick’s Day with their bad hats and novelty t-shirts. But I’m a cringing Anglo-Saxon. I hunch and politely apologize my way through the holiday much as I do the rest of my life. I make jokes about wearing orange if I’m feeling comfortable and saucy. So practically never. 

image

me and my sister's best friend, Lindsey. Would you like to join our ambient noise band from 1998?

When I get off the plane, I’m sweaty but nowhere near as sick to my stomach as I have been. It feels like the worst of heartburn is in the past, though I’m still carrying a roll of antacids in my front jeans pocket. They kind of look like a happy little chode, and I weirdly don’t mind that. Dick power, I guess?

On the taxi ride to LaGuardia I wished I were a man. But that’s because the proselytizing livery driver seemed offended by gender. His car reeked of body odor. I rolled the window down as he yelled at me about God and rolled the window back up again. I was feeling sick. It was only ten in the morning.  The car was hot and I was overdressed. I hadn’t taken a shit before leaving the house. I’d passed through comfortable-bowel-movement-o’clock and veered right into half-past-let-the-shit-rain-from-my-ass-for-a-considerable-and-painful-amount-of-time as penance from breaking with my usual bathroom routine. I would believe whatever god this guy wanted me to if it meant I’d be rewarded with a satisfyingly meaty dump instead of vomiting up the breakfast I felt creeping up the back of my throat. 

I was happy to see my sister. She had the days of my visit planned out. I like plans. I like itineraries. I’ve considered going on those terrible guided European tours solo. I like being directed. I think I’d make a great celebrity for this reason. Just give me an assistant, a manager, and a penthouse window to stare out pensively at night all alone and I’d be set. 

For the first time in a while, I felt the strange relief of not being ‘in charge.’ There were places to go and things to do and people to meet, and I was not responsible for any of it. I shook peoples’ hands and said hello and while I was shy (because I am) I faced none of it with real dread. Is this what it’s like to be other people? Do you just sort of go through your day, doing one thing and then the next, and not particularly minding any of it? Do you fall asleep at night easily and have funny dreams that you remember? 

Because there was nothing else to worry about, I fussed over what to wear the day of the party. I bought a great lime green 70s era top from a vintage store run by Jenna Elfman’s Chicago-based clone. I did a reading at Mass. I have always been able to stand in front of big groups of people and read things. I like the way my own voice sounds. I’m vain about it. I didn’t look up from the book when I read, but I wasn’t nervous either. I feel like there’s nothing to me. I feel like I’m fading away sometimes, like my life used to be this vivid, dark, indie rom com and now I’m a tertiary character if in the film at all. It’s all passing, and I missed every chance to attach myself to an interesting plot point. I think being this way for so long has been part of the problem. My anxiety has left me emotionally stunted. 

image

me and my sister. People say we don't look alike. I say we look like sisters. 

I am aware that I am not talking much during the trip. I wonder if I should be worried about this. Usually when I’m not talking, I’m thinking a mile a minute. I’m still thinking, but not at a frantic clip. But something interesting is happening: I am listening so intently. Suddenly, everyone is interesting to me I don’t want to open my mouth just for the sake of opening it in case I miss a chance to appreciate the beauty of other people in conversation.* Everyone probably thinks I’m boring. That’s a thought I had. But it didn’t stay, it didn’t bubble up in my guts and flay my insides. 

Alongside that idea I find another one: I don’t think probably anyone is thinking anything about me much at all. It wasn’t a bad thought; trust me when I say I wasn’t being a sad sack in a corner. It was a relief, this temporary respite from the belief that I’m on the outside, a strange, reprehensible tribe of one. For one entire night, I was entirely aware of being one of many and it was okay. I didn’t worry that I spoke little. I didn’t worry that I wasn’t worrying. I sat and listened and watched and that night I upped the dose, and when I slept I dreamed. 

 

*(Is that what ecstasy is like? My sole basis is that movie The Birthday Party with Alan Cumming, because I’m a drug-shy nerd who really, really likes Alan Cumming)