What It's Like In There

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I know it will be one of the bad days when I wake up in the middle of the night.

My eyes snap open at 3 or 4 AM, purposefully. Like someone called to me. Sometimes it’s a bad dream, but usually I just go from being asleep to not being asleep.

Worrier that I am, I will listen for burglars. For footsteps. I will look at the door to make sure that it is not being slowly opened by someone who does not belong there. If I am alone, I will get up and check the lock. I will look in my closet, in my kitchen, behind the shower curtain to make sure that everything is the way I left it. Sometimes the light will still be on if I tried to read myself to sleep. Once everything is secure, I will crawl back into bed and deal with being awake in the middle of the night.

If I am lucky, I will slide back into sleep and pick up where I left off. If I am not, I will stare at the ceiling for an hour or so and think about debt. About how miserable I am going to be at work the next day if I stay up. I will think about all of the things that I should have done the day before but didn’t. I will think about where I thought I was going to be at this stage of my life and how different it is from where I actually am. I will try to count.

If it is indeed one of the bad days, I will most likely wake up the next morning before my alarm goes off and I will wait for it to sound with dread.

Something in my body will say: “Oh, no. No. You are not well enough to go to work today. You are sick. You need rest.” I will struggle with this for the next half hour or so. I think about calling into work. About taking a sick day. Because if facing getting up is really this difficult then I certainly must be ill.

“No,” I snarl at this part of myself. “You are tired and sad. That is different. And you are being weak.”

As I move, with great effort, to extract my limbs from my sheets I will attempt to ignore the fact that my body telling me that I am ill when there are no apparent symptoms of sickness is very telling.

“Up,” I say to myself. “You have to fight this and get up. There is nothing for it.”

I feel overwhelmed already and emotional as I look down at my feet, dangling over the edge of the bed. I take a breath and make them touch the floor.

This process can take a long time. Quite often, even if I woke up much earlier than I had to, by the time my feet have touched the floor I will be running late.

I do not like to be late. When I am late for work, late to appointments or late for auditions I get extremely anxious. This anxiety wars with the lethargy, the reluctance to get out of bed, so that by the time I am dressed and rushing out of the door I have worked myself up into a state.

On the way to work is okay. I don’t have to focus on anything just yet. I spend the time staring out of the window on the Western bus and worrying about the moment when I will see someone that I know and have to smile at them because I don’t feel like smiling.

I practice it. The woman across the aisle looks at me strangely. I glance down at my phone and smile again to pretend like I am amused by something that I heard over my headphones, or that I am reading a funny text message. We pass the stop before the one where I will need to get off.

I give myself one more chance to bail. To turn around and go back to bed or to just continue riding the bus until the end because at least I’ll be going somewhere and no one will bother me.

I get off, and it is decided. I am going to work.

I start psyching myself up. Be normal. Wake up. Wake up. Wake UP.

I am there now, and I do normal getting to work things. I say hello to my work friends. I make tea. I check my email. I check my schedule to make sure there are no meetings. I clock in. I eat an apple. I look at the water glass on my desk that still has some of yesterday’s water in it and I feel a stab of disappointment that I didn’t drink enough water yesterday and I probably won’t drink enough today and if I can’t even remember to drink enough water because it’s supposed to make me feel better then I probably deserve to feel like shit all of the time. I start thinking about all of the other things that I do that are wrong and before I know it I have been staring at the same email that I have been trying to finish for ten minutes and I have gotten nothing done.

I finish the email and start another one.

I start thinking about all of the personal emails that I should have answered by now but haven’t because I’m irresponsible and everyone thinks that I am flakey and they have no idea that I have about a million saved drafts in my email account because I start one, get overwhelmed and tell myself that I will finish it later. I start thinking about what sort of crazy person gets overwhelmed by an email.

One of my friends makes a joke that breaks me out of my reverie and I laugh at it a second too late and frown because I think it made me seem like I wasn’t listening and I hope they don’t think I was being rude.

I finish another work email.

By lunchtime, I have settled into a nice little gloom and I can’t stop thinking about how tired I am.

“Maybe,” I say to myself, “It was because you were up half of the night worrying and feeling sorry for yourself. Maybe if your brain wasn’t all scrambled and sad you could get through an 8 hour work day without feeling like you’ve been through a war. You’re crazy. Crazy people think the way you do. Do you know that?”

A customer yells at me over the phone. Since I am already raw from being yelled at by myself all day, I take a break to cry in the bathroom.

“It’s normal to cry,” I think. “I’m a crier! Everyone knows that. I’m sensitive. Being sensitive is my thing!”

Another email. Another phone call.

I try to pinpoint when exactly things started getting sad. Getting heavy. I was happy enough not too long ago. I know I was. What happened? Is it too late? Is it irreversible? Should I be on drugs? I’m scared of drugs. If I talk to someone, will they think I’m annoying? Will they think that I’m whining? What if this is how I’m going to feel all of the time, from now on? Is this just what getting older is? Oh, God. I’m getting older. Maybe all of my happiest times are gone. How did I let this happen? I’m sinking. CAN’T YOU FEEL YOURSELF SINKING? ARE YOU JUST GOING TO SIT THERE AND DO NOTHING? WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU?

I blink. I fight down the panic. I smile to myself to get rid of the thought. A nervous tick. Someone asks what is so funny.

The panic is gone until I let my guard down later. I will squeeze my eyes shut and it will go away again for a while longer.

When did I start adapting to it instead of dealing with it? What IS it, even?

I resolve that I am going to change things. A complete overhaul. I’m going to start working out regularly. Making meals instead of eating out so much. Get a regular sleep schedule going. That will work.

“Don’t be silly” that mean, ugly voice snarls. “You always say you’re going to do that and then you don’t. Who are you trying to fool? Me? I know you.”

Another defeat.

Work ends. Sometimes I go out with friends. Sometimes I go for a long walk and listen to music because when it is quiet and there are no distractions I start to get mean to myself.

I will have to deal with it for it to go away, I know. But it seems too big. Too exhausting. It’s easier to curl up in bed. To bury my head in the sand like an ostrich.

I will deal with it tomorrow, I think. Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow.

I go home and open my refrigerator.

“Who forgets to buy groceries? I thought you were supposed to be a grown up?”

“I am,” I think. And I am so frustrated with myself. “ I was supposed to go today before work, but I was too busy dealing with YOU.”

I squeeze the handle to the refrigerator as hard as I can, just because it feels good to be mad and exert some force. I feel in control for a second. Galvanized. I am not a zombie. I am alive, and I am smart and being angry means that I have a purpose. A plan.

In a second it is gone, and I slump back into broodiness.

After eating, after reading, after working on fragments of things that always remain unfinished, I crawl back into bed. I sigh and it is a mixture of relief and disappointment.

I set my alarm for the morning and my stomach already aches thinking about the moment it will go off tomorrow.

They are not all bad. I have good days. I have so many good days.

“For now," the voice whispers, and I do the squeeze-blink thing again and read a little more so that I won’t think so much.

“I won’t wake up tonight,” I say to myself. “I will have normal sleep. I will have normal dreams. Tomorrow I won’t be sad anymore. This was a phase. A fluke. Nothing to worry about. Tomorrow I will be just fine. I’ll feel better in the morning.”

I’ll feel better in the morning

And sometimes I do.

Written By Carmen Molina

Bio: Carmen Molina is a writer and an actress based in Chicago. She often misses her bus to work because she is too busy petting dogs she meets on the street.

Twitter: @CarmenMolina - Instagram: @carmenmichelemolina