DISPATCHES FROM THE PROZAC RABBIT HOLE: What It's Like When Everyone Knows You Have Anxiety

I used to insist that I was a very private person. I wasn’t being funny, I meant it. I could tell you that I hate wearing underwear and about my earliest sexual fantasy and still earnestly believe that you didn’t know me at all.
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Rebecca Jane Stokes
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I used to insist that I was a very private person. I wasn’t being funny, I meant it. I could tell you that I hate wearing underwear and about my earliest sexual fantasy and still earnestly believe that you didn’t know me at all.

We were leaving the building where the meeting was held when I was struck yet again by the austere and weird beauty of the lobby. We’d met in somebody’s apartment on the first floor of a building in Brooklyn near the museum. Stepping inside, you wouldn’t be entirely surprised to find Lloyd the Bartender telling you that something has to be done about Danny and Wendy. It’s red and gold and polished to a sheen with columns throughout that give it the appearance of being almost a mirror maze.

Shining comparisons aside, it isn’t a scary space. It’s comfortable, and I’m comfortable. Marble used to give me visions of falling over, of seeing my own brain leak out my ear onto the floor. Today I am imagining living here, I am imagining knowing the doorman’s name. I only faintly hear the buzzing of the flies gathering to inspect my human ooze.

I swan out the door flanked by friends both new and old and I pretend that I always feel this way. It’s easy to do when I’m actually happy. It’s like feeling sick and swearing not to take another day of wellness lightly again. But we always do, because we’re human and we’re busy rolling little balls of dung up a hill with our angled forelegs. Being alive can be terrible and is always hard, but you don’t always realize that when you’re wrist deep in it. 

That night, I’d sat in a beautiful chaise lounge, my back pressed against the wall, and listened to some actors I’d met before read another instalment of a project the production company with whom I make things has been developing. The actors were sitting at a circular table. They were, without exception, beautiful. I liked being the cell wall to their atomic nucleus. It gave me license to stare and consider.

I am a writer, so I’m allowed to be shy. Publicly writing about my anxiety has given me even greater allowance in that department. So I’m sitting carefully, trying not to sweat on the beautiful perfumed scarf one actress has draped on the chaise, taking advantage of the opportunity the reading has provided me to study their faces and bodies and how they are with each other in the world. 

I was an actor, but I was never comfortable in my own body. I wasn’t a great actress, but I was good enough that I could make people think I was comfortable in my own skin. And, on the days that wasn’t possible, I was able to project (am still about to project) a veneer of chilly distance and amusement that eventually became something real. What used to be a front I put on to keep myself from looking and feeling foolish morphed from a mechanism into actual armor. I forgot how badly I wanted to connect, to relax, to let people in. I forget it so well that now it is as hard as washing paint out of a roller.

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That armor exists still, but I slip in and out of it now. It’s an arduous process, like peeling off a gently healing scab each time. Sometimes it’s easier than others. Today, for example, before leaving for this meeting, the armor popped off and left a trickle of blood inching down my spine. I’m blinking too rapidly, I’m talking too quickly, I am not holding eye contact with anyone because I don’t want them to see the struggle. Watching the actors in the center of the room I am quietly impressed that if any of them feel this way, the armor they wear is better than mine. The room full of people, shaking hands, trying new things, it seems to them life giving.

Afterwards I am going to a bar with a few friends from the meeting. It’s supposed to be a second meeting and it is for a while before it devolves in a wonderful way into four people who did not expect to be sitting together drinking into four people sitting together drinking. We are happy and thoughtful and strangely ourselves. We are all made into beautiful creatures by candlelight. I start to tell a story and some of the details are already known -- because these friends read what I write. This is interesting and strange and happens more and more now.

Sometimes I feel like two people. I’m the me who writes these things weekly and then I’m the person everyone meets in the waking world. They are different people, or at least, they have been. I used to insist that I was a very private person. I wasn’t being funny, I meant it. I could tell you that I hate wearing underwear and about my earliest sexual fantasy and still earnestly believe that you didn’t know me at all. But that writer and that other person bump hips more often now. It’s definitely bumping, careening carelessly into each other. I bite my tongue when I meet people who’ve read my stuff. Because if I’m not careful I’ll apologize for not being her. But, I am her. 

At the table we are talking about death. I can’t be glib or even pawn off my real feelings with some halfway decent joke. These people know me now, and there is no reason to hide. I think about death, I poke that fear in my reptilian brain and my legs get weak, my palms sweat. I’m biting the insides of my cheeks. I’m standing up and I’m in the bathroom splashing water on my face. I’m looking in the mirror, “Are you okay?” “Yeah, I’m okay. I just got overwhelmed.” “Can you go back out there and be normal?” “No, but I can go back out there and be myself and I think that will be fine.” I clap my hands together loudly and rub them together with vigor. I pull them apart until they are parallel to each other by about six inches. I bend my hands into c-shapes and I feel the stingy sphere of energy between them as my hands orbit each other in harmonious opposition. Then I go drink some bourbon.

It’s a scary thing, these two versions of myself existing openly. I feel revealed and caught out all at once. The everyday me is this charming monster so eager to be liked, but then writer me, she is altogether different. People are starting to see her when they talk to me. They see her and they don’t go running for the hills, so I can stay out of my armor and show people the latest bleeding gash it left on my person without fear of reproval or rejection. The candlelight glints in the light of the people who surround me. They’ve changed the subject, because they know me. They are making a big deal about it because they know. I sit back down and I am welcomed. I do not once think that I am crazy. That is a pleasant respite.