Goodnight – Daphne Bellflower
Ava woke up again for the third time that night. She didn’t check her clock to see what time it was. Her psychiatrist, Dr. Wilson, told her that checking her clock every time she woke up would only increase her anxiety about not sleeping. Ava thought this reasoning was ridiculous because it only made her more obsessive about falling asleep. Did she have 2 more hours to sleep? Or another 10 minutes? Or did she forget to set her alarm clock last night, and it was a now an hour past the time she was supposed to get up.
Ava thought that because she paid Dr. Wilson $150 an hour she should at least try to follow his advice. But in the wee small hours of the morning, Ava often thought that a trip to Nordstrom with Dr. Wilson’s weekly $150 would at the very least assuage her anxiety about what shoes she was going to wear to work tomorrow. She fought the urge to look at her clock for about 40 seconds, then turned her clock around. The LED display read 3:42. Ava had two hours and 17 minutes to obsess about not sleeping.
Dr. Wilson was the latest in a long line of professionals Ava retained in the hope that her anxiety would somehow be cured. She felt like the living embodiment of Chicken Little, the childhood character she most identified with. Ava knew damn well that the second she dropped her hyper-vigilance, she would either lose her job, get hit by a car, gain ten pounds, trip on the stairs in her parking garage, get wrinkles on her face, or burn to death in a hotel fire.
Intellectually, Ava knew this kind of thinking was ridiculous, but this did not stop her from working harder than her co-workers, looking both ways – twice – before crossing the street, starving herself, makin sure her feet were in the middle of each concrete step, using every skin care product that promised eternal youth, and noting all emergency exits at the hotels she stayed at when she traveled.
Checking and rechecking the objects of her obsession was only a temporary stop-gap measure. Ava would obsess during the day whether she really locked her front door before she left for work, or if she only thought that she locked her front door. On these days, Ava would leave work and go home to check her front door. It was always locked, but there was always the possibility that she had left her iron plugged in.
More than anything, Ava wanted to be free of her obsessive anxiety. She couldn’t recall a time when she felt at ease. As a child, Ava was fearful and nervous, scared of any new experience or new people. She learned to hide her fears by developing a comic persona and misbehaving whenever she could. In grade school, she was sent to the principal’s office at least once a week. Her classmates were impressed by her blatant disregard for rules, her quick wit, and when she was entered her teenage years, her pretty face and big boobs.
Ava’s teenage persona expanded as she became an adult. Oddly, as Ava became more sucessful, her anxiety and obsessiveness increased exponentially. In additon to the ongoing torture of her thoughts, Ava’s anxiety started to manifest itself physically. Her palms got sweaty. She perspired so much that should couldn’t wear shirts that showed the damp rings at her underarms. Her eye would twitch, her laugh became manic. Ava was forced to develop a public persona that she patterned on Diane Sawyer: calm, smart, sort of hot. This too made Ava anxious; “the Diane” was difficult for her to keep up for more than 3 hours.
Ava took a couple of the deep cleansing breaths she learned from a shaman at an Esalen retreat. Thinking the shaman probably didn’t have to worry about geting up for work at 6:00, Ava took another deep breath and again looked at her clock. The LED glared 4:17. Ava thought about what she would make for dinner tomorrow and the next night. She wondered if her brother was still mad at her. She thought about her strategy at mediation. She wondered if the basement light was off. She planned the outfits she would take on her trip to Los Angeles. She wondered if her girlfriends were mad at her because of her politically incorrect commentary at the last bookgroup.
At the first few sessions, Dr. Wilson asked Ava about her childhood; was there something that happened to her that made her anxious? What was her relationship like with her parents? What was growing up like? Ava thought this line of questioning was ridiculous. She was a child 30 years ago; she was anxious and obsessive now. She told Dr. Wilson that she didn’t want to talk about the past. She wanted him to tell her how to make it stop now. All mental help professionals were obsessed with the past, and Ava didn’t believe in the past. She preferred not to dwell on the unpleasant; it was harder to turn the tragic into a joke.
Ava breathed deep for five seconds and exhaled for ten. She did this ten times. She learned this technique at her yoga studio. Ava loved yoga, but worried about how her ass looked in her yoga pants. She also got frustrated when she couldn’t do crow pose. She ran through a list of all the yoga poses she couldn’t do, then glanced at her clock again in desparation. This LED flashed 4:39.
Ava’s heart began to pound. She had been awake for over an hour and had to sleep. She began a mental list of all the things she had to do at work tomorrow. It was a long list. Dr. Wilson told Ava that when she started to obsess about something to either take care of it that minute or quit thinking about it. Ava thought it was excellent advice that would do wonders for a sane person.
She rolled over and started feeling around in her purse in the dark. While truly Ava wanted to quit worrying, to stop being so anxious, to cease obsessing about everything, she knew she couldn’t by herself. She had sought help from psychiatrists for 20 years. This was part of her effort to help herself, even though she knew that a doctor couldn’t change the past or even the present. That was the long con; doctors dangled the promise of a better life through relentless rehashing of past events that wouldn’t change.
Ava knew what helped – Xanax. She loved Xanax; it wasn’t the promise of help. It actually helped. Her anxiety was cured. Obsessive thoughts stopped. Her eye quit twitching. With Xanas, Ava didn’t have to depend on her Diane Sawyer persona. She preferred help from The Valley of the Dolls. As she found the bottle in her purse, she fumbled a little with the lid and took a couple pills. Ava closed her eyes. She knew she didn’t have to look at the clock again that night.