It is one of those weary bleary mornings. I had awakened way before dawn at 3:00 AM by a very rude headache. I tried to ignore it (the way I try to ignore rude and obnoxious people) and doze back off, but the hammering was too loud, too jarring. For half an hour, I tangled and wrangled with the sheets (sorry Ted), then I just got up and took a shower in the dark. I got some coffee, took a couple of Excedrin Migraines and propped myself up against the headboard and tried not to move. The headache dimmed, leaving its buzzy echo behind.
Then the anxiety kicked in; I sat in the darkness mind-tweaking: How the hell was I supposed to function today? When would I be able to sneak in a nap? How will I be able to focus enough to get my column written for the paper? Where will I get the energy to teach my class? Why am I such a lousy sleeper? Is something seriously wrong with me? Am I getting sick? Am I already sick, and just don’t know it? Is that dark spot on my wrist really a freckle? Why is it so cold in here? What time is it already? Will it ever get light outside? And on and on and on.
Finally, the universe (literally) started to answer that last question, and the black sky began to gray, and I trudged out onto the beach in my pajamas, aching for sunrise—still mind-tweaking. I dragged myself over the walkover and onto the sand and looked out over the water. Damn. I was disappointed to see a big slimy-looking swath of what looked like seaweed or algae right there in the shore break. The patch was so dark it was almost black. I was bummed to see the return of mucky waters. The Gulf has been so clear and refreshing lately.
As I got closer, and the light got brighter, the black-ish slime seemed to simmer and seethe. I could hear it boiling. It sounded like rain. The tide washed up around my ankles. It felt chunky and dense. I looked down, and there at my feet, thousands, perhaps millions of tiny glass minnows swirled and flitted. They were trapped in a shallow basin close to shore, and there they churned—a seemingly solid mass of movement and chaos.
This is what my anxiety feels like some days. Exactly this. These frantic fishies are my frenzied thoughts. They’re trapped and in a tizzy, and they can’t stop twirling and spinning and writhing and wriggling. There are too many thoughts in too little space and they’re ricocheting off each other frenetically but getting nowhere.
The tidepool that these minnows were stranded in looked solid enough to walk on. And yet the water all around, just beyond the sandbar that had imprisoned them, was as green and clear as a glacial lake. But they couldn’t get out of the twirling whorl to clear water. Not yet. The tide wouldn’t let them. So there they hurtled—so fast, so furious. A few had been marooned on shore, where they convulsed and writhed until the next wave reclaimed them and dragged them back into the fray. It’s was a sad and hopeless little scenario.
Made sadder and hopeless-er, by my intense empathetic reaction to it. This is the way I feel today and often—my brain a useless vortex of swarming thoughts.
Sleepless nights can do this to me. But so can, well, nothing. I can go from calm to calamity in my mind in an instant. It’s not one of my more endearing qualities. I kind of hate it.
Which may be the problem—this hating it. I’ll explain.
A couple of days ago I refuted the notion that “you can’t judge a book by its cover,” and bought a book strictly based on the title and cover art. It was great even before I opened it. Sarah Wilson’s, first, we make the beast beautiful,may be the most quirkily transformative book I have read since Augusten Burroughs’, This is How.
It’s a compact little tome, hard-backed and sturdy—deep-sea-navy cover with silver lettering, all lower-case. A cerulean blue octopus, Gyotaku printed (an ancient Japanese art formed by rubbing an actual octopus on paper), floats below the title. Dayglo pink bubbles rise from its tentacles. Its little eye is closed. It’s gorgeous.
Wilson chose this image (by Damian Oswald) because octopi “are beasts that are made more beautiful through our deeper understanding of them.” She believes our anxiety is too.
And about 20 pages into the book, I started to believe it too. This is a good thing. I’ve been around long enough to have lost hope—and that, believe it or not, is a good thing too. I know, it sounds awful. But I haven’t lost hope in the goodness of life; no, I’m actually feeling a pretty optimistic. And, considering my rude awakening with a migraine, at 3:00 AM today, this is a big freaking deal.
What I’ve lost hope in is that I will, someday, happen upon just the right footnote in a self-help book, the right song lyric on the radio, the right picture quote on Facebook, or better yet, the right magic prayer, pill or potion, that will cure me, once and for all, of my anxious temperament. That I will, at last, be mercifully rendered calm and rational and Zenny on the inside. That my mind will forget how to tweak.
Not. Gonna. Happen. Not without a scalpel to my frontal lobe. Those neural pathways are too ingrained. I am too—well, too Sharla. This is me: quirky, messy, insecure.
I am also tenderhearted, earnest and merciful. My quirkymessyinsecurity makes me so. This drive to understand my octopus makes me so. This pensive wandering the beach at dawn each day, makes me so.
Most days, my anxiety is less like this morning’s swarming fish fray and more like a “beige buzz,” as Wilson describes that everyday, tedious fretfulness that fizzles the brain and shallows the breath. It’s a radio channel just barely out of range. It’s a mosquito in my hair. I’ve always thought it odd that folks drink alcohol for the buzz. I drank because it silenced the buzz. For a minute anyway. Until it didn’t.
Now I live with the buzziness. I recently read that Bumblebees pollinate flowers and fruits much more efficiently than the non-buzzing bees, like honeybees. But they both do good work.
I took an early evening walk today too. Sometimes the book-end effect of a dawn and dusk walk is calming to me. I was still worried about the glass minnows.
But they’d been freed. The tide—the plain old everyday ebb and flow of the sea—released them into the spaciousness of the whole Gulf. That’s the way it works.
“Vices” is now available on Kindle and other eReaders for just 5.99. You even have the option of “gifting” the digital version by clicking the “Give as a Gift” on Amazon.com and entering the email address of the recipient. Of course, the paper version (still my preference) is available at the buy-three-get-one-free rate from this website (Shop).
Books are also available from all these gracious local retailers:
At the beach:
69 Via DeLuna Dr.
Pensacola Beach, FL 32561
In Gulf Breeze:
832 Gulf Breeze Parkway
(Publix shopping center)
Gulf Breeze, FL 32561
In East Hill:
1208 N. 12th Ave.
Pensacola, FL 32503
(at the front register)
5109 Bayou Blvd.
Pensacola, FL 32503
89 Central Square
Santa Rosa Beach, FL 32549
Page and Palette
32 S. Secton Street
Fairhope, AL 36532