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Benevolent Dictator | 2017 |


Lighthouses don't go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.  

-Anne Lamott

The Lake of Better

I have never been so aware of it because I saw no difference between my mental quirks and me. I believed I was only moody and that my thoughts in these moments were unfortunate truths. Now I know they are only distant worries grown malignant. I think about my anxiety and depression now because they are something outside the core of who I am, the true me, and I am frustrated that looking them in the eyes doesn't make them back down far enough.

When I am good - and I usually am - I am better than I have ever been in my adult life. (I cannot compare my mental state on good days against myself as a child or adolescent; I am not that boy and hardly know him now, but I know the last ten years keenly and I am a better version of that Thomm.) I am able to act effortlessly in social situations. Asked questions, I give lucid, eloquent, and expansive answers with which even I am impressed and surprised. I have access to the majority of my vocabulary and knowledge. I have a nearly inexhaustible fount of social energy from which I can draw around my friends and family where I would have previously needed to go for a walk or hide in the dark until my reservoir replenished enough that I could resume participation. I feel so much kinder with other people, more fascinated by their stories. I have vastly improved as a teacher and writer, far better than it occurred to me I could be. I am closer to the best self I can be. I feel as though I have a superpower, if just because I have had to grow so strong with weights tied to my limbs prior.

I don't know that the bad moments are worse than before, but the contrast is starker. Usually, these are inspired by a combination of a threat to my immune system and a triggering phrase, image, thought, or comment. When I am fully physically healthy, the triggering can be abated through centering myself in the moment. It is little more than swatting a mosquito. When I have a cold beyond a certain threshold, my thoughts race and I feel emotionally miserable. I don't know why my brain overreacts this way to physical threats, but I recognize the correlation. When my "therapist" overprescribes a medication, my brain recoils either in lethargy or anxiety. In the moment of my attack, I know all this still but it does me little good. The dire thoughts demand immediate and permanent solutions. It is real to me then, the only real I can understand. I am weakly struggling against the onslaught of my own mind, my paddling exhausted from doing this again and again.

Worse, I drag Amber into the fray with me. Simultaneously, I want her there to lead me out again and I want her a thousand miles away so that she never has to see me like this, hear the venomous things inside me given voice. I don't want to lose the best thing in my life to the worst. Right now, so much is better in my life than it has ever been. She is a large part of that.

Sunday, we went for a walk at Peach Hill Park, Amber, Sarah, Chris, and I. I hesitate calling it a hike, since the slope is gentle and the path worn. I took copious pictures of trees, flowers, a snake, and my weary friends. The whole walk, including a break for lunch at the apex - the highest point in Poughkeepsie - only takes a couple of hours. When we are again at the parking lot, we stall. Chris suggests we go for another walk and I could happily do it for the chance to practice my photography, but Sarah says she has walked enough. Amber retreats to a sunny patch in the dirt of the parking lot to study for the multitude of tests before her. Chris, Sarah, and I, sitting on the picnic table, talk for effortless hours, not moving toward the next walk. It isn't that we would balk at more physical activity - or Chris and I wouldn't and Amber would tolerate it, though Sarah would go home - but that it would end this sun dappled moment in which we were. I felt particularly myself, uniquely unburdened. Amber suggests we all get frozen yogurt, adding back the calories the walk burned, but extending and enriching the day. I can have great days and they are far less mental effort. Good days just happen without being trapped in my mind. Anxiety and depression take effort and energy to maintain.

When I am not struggling - and I think I am doing so less, though it might be a product of the season - I feel more alive than before. I have access to the totality of my brain and do not think to hesitate in its use. I feel so much more a part of the world and appreciate my place within it. I can live up to my potential.

I am looking for a competent therapist that will take my insurance because this is the main thing holding me back. Amber thinks I am no worse, but she acknowledges that I seem better. The worse sticks out because it is surrounded by a lake of Better I am eager to have overflow its banks and erode away what I pray is an island of the Bad and not the isthmus of a vast continent.

Soon in Xenology: Adventures. Spring.

last watched: Black Mirror
reading: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
listening: Great Big World

Benevolent Dictator | 2017 |

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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