Out of the Rabbit Hole

As the fog of slumber lifts and the reality of wakefulness settles upon me, it is there. A heavy stone—which may as well be a boulder—is pressing against my chest. The full weight of it constricting my breathing and creating a pain that radiates out into my limbs and up into my neck and head.

Putting my hand to my forehead I think: Not today. Please let’s not do this today. Yes, it is Monday, but that isn’t reason enough for this. Quickly I run down the bullet points of the day that lay in front of me and of the events of the week and evening prior… looking for any sign of trouble that might be to blame. But there is nothing there.

As I toss aside the blankets and set my feet upon the cold, hardwood floor my breathing quickens and my heart races. The bedspread doesn’t look quite right. The notion of making my bed like I do every morning without thought or consideration suddenly overwhelms me. I feel nauseated. Everything around me unfamiliar yet familiar at the same time, like walking down a hallway of funhouse mirrors.

Looks like I have fallen into the hole again and I have no choice but to climb back out.

For those of you fortunate enough to be unaware of what I am describing… allow me to introduce you to the adventure that is a panic attack. To help you gain a more accurate perspective, imagine Alice in Wonderland plus a sense of impending doom but minus the tea parties, talking critters and croquet—in other words—all of the disjointed creepiness and none of the fun.

As much as I want to fight it, I suppose this is one of those rare but “as needed” mornings that the prescription bottle clearly addresses. Like Alice in the rabbit’s hole, I follow the instructions of the container on the table. Hesitant and grateful all at once for the way this will transform me, I swallow the contents and grasp for my footing.

Out of the Mouths of Babes

How is it that children see things so much clearer than we do sometimes? Perhaps it is because their brains aren’t as cluttered with all of the crap we adults tend to carry around. We underestimate their ability to comprehend, process and understand what we deem to be “adult information” and we often overlook how tuned-in they really are.

Three summers ago when I moved back to Ohio from the southwest and began my job search, I thought FOR SURE I had stumbled upon or been led to the perfect job for me. It all came about so easily and so quickly and I pridefully thought to myself: This is really going to work out much better than even I had planned. The job was near Cleveland, the pay was great, the company seemed solid and well-established, and the work was creative & diverse. The HR Director had even used these words: “We really think we have a good fit here” while referring to me as a candidate for the position. All 4 of my interviews with the various “suits” had gone well and I felt fairly confident that this thing was all sewn up.

I’m sure you can tell where I am going with this by now… I didn’t get the job.

The rejection letter came, a charming form of correspondence with which I would later become very familiar… and I came unglued. I mean REALLY unglued. Unfortunately, my then 12 year-old nephew, Cameron, was at the house at the time.

I should mention that for about 6 or 7 years now I have struggled with depression and anxiety… and I was in a bit of a fragile state of mind at this particular time anyway, so this letter was the last straw. In an attempt to protect the innocent as well as whatever is left of my credibility with whoever may be reading this, I won’t go into detail about HOW I came unglued. Let’s just say that the wheels pretty much flew totally OFF my wagon.

My mom and dad tried comforting me, all the while my nephew is in the other room, hearing terrible things spew forth from my mouth as I am screaming and sobbing and raging about all sorts of things that I’m pretty sure were not even remotely related to this “You Suck” letter. And I’m ashamed to admit it, but Cameron overheard things that no child should ever have to hear from an adult whom they love. Scary things.

A few days later, when I had gained some composure and perspective, in addition to a refill of my medication… it’s OK you can laugh at that… I took Cameron out to lunch, just the two of us, and I apologized to him and I asked if he had ANY questions he wanted to ask me about what he’d heard me say that day. Cameron is an extremely bright and mature child, therefore nothing was off-limits. I wanted him to know that it was ALL out on the table in front of us. He expressed his feelings of sadness and concern that I was so upset, but I believe he genuinely understood that everything was going to be OK… that I was going to be OK.

I wish that at the time, I had had the confidence in myself that my nephew had in me.

Fast forward 10 months.

It is 5:30 p.m. on a weekday. I am home from work and I pull my new car into the driveway of my house. Because my family has practically established a 2-block commune in our little town of Minerva, it is quite the norm for a stray child to appear out of nowhere with a hug and a bright “Hi Aunt JoJo!” And on this particular day… it was Cameron.

He gave me a huge bear hug and asked how my day was. I hugged him back, locked my car, gathered up my things and started toward my parent’s house to say hello. But Cameron stopped me. He put his little arm around my waist and turned me to face my house. And he said, verbatim: “Look at you now, Aunt JoJo. Look at how far you’ve come.” At first I thought he was just being silly and sarcastic and I smiled and hugged him again. But since I was not completely certain what he meant by that, while we were still hugging one another, I asked him: “What exactly are you talking about, Cameron?”

He lifted his chin up to meet my gaze and he said to me: “Your car. Your house. Your job. (And he nodded in the direction of each of those things) Look at all you have now. And to think that just a few months ago you wanted to give up.”

I was speechless. I started to cry. I squeezed him tighter and I cried harder. All I could do was nod in affirmation. At that point in time I was so overcome with emotion, that his small 4-foot-something frame was supporting ME. I held onto him for dear life and I have never felt a bigger knot in my throat.

Crazy for Shoes

Three years ago, while living in New Mexico, I was gainfully employed as a graphic designer, but I needed to land a part-time job to earn some extra cash. I set out on my journey to find this part-time job and fortunately found one fairly quickly at a brand new Kohls store that was just getting ready to open. I was thrilled to have gotten an offer so soon after starting my quest for cash. I filled out the paperwork and agreed to jump through all of their corporate hoops in order to start getting that additional paycheck. These “hoops” included a criminal background check (no problem), employment history check (ditto), reference check (call them up!)… and a drug test.

Here is where I should probably mention that like many other “chemically-unbalanced” Americans, I was under the influence of some prescription medication that helped me to feel a little happier… A little less like sitting in a corner and crying… and rocking… and talking to myself… A little less like setting my hair on fire… A little less like ripping everyone’s head off or crashing my Wal-Mart cart into their cars… A little more… shall we say… balanced 🙂

One would think that this medication, being prescribed by a local and reputable doctor, should not and would not pose a problem on a drug screen. But just to be on the safe side, I took my prescription with me to the facility on the appointed day that I was to—eh-hem—produce the sample. I told the girl behind the counter (who looked like she should be drug-tested herself) about my “situation” and showed her the prescription. She made a photocopy of it and recommended that I inform the store management to cover all my bases. OK. Not a problem. I called management as she suggested. Surely this would be OK. I cannot be the ONLY one out of 150 new employees taking legally-prescribed, mood-altering medication. And besides, who can argue with the virtues of honesty and openness?

However, much to my surprise, management asked me to provide them with medical and pharmaceutical records for the past 18 months! 18 MONTHS!?!?! I was beginning to wonder if that task alone was even worth the $7.35 an hour I was going to be making?!?! But I complied. The records were obtained and presented and then I waited.

And I waited…

And I waited…

Bear in mind that other people I knew and had met along this journey toward part-time-minimum-wage-retail-imprisonment (I mean employment) were already getting calls about scheduling their training and orientation, etc. And yet I waited. While I waited I began questioning the ethics of what the management team was actually doing. Were they even allowed to peer that deeply into my medical life story? And so, while I waited some more… I conducted some independent research on EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) regulations and compliance.

I won’t bore you with what I found there… but suffice it to say that if they did NOT hire me over this prescription-drug-laced urine sample and my “questionable” medical history… I actually had a real case on my hands. And believe me I was considering it… I would have made A LOT more than $7.35 an hour and then I wouldn’t even NEED the damn part-time job. I had the name, address and phone number for the nearest EEOC office—located in El Paso, TX—in hand when I finally got the call that they were ready to schedule my orientation and training.

Lucky for them. <cue Law and Order scene change music>

I attended my orientation at Kohls. It lasted 4 hours. More paperwork. Laughable sexual harassment videos. Stupid Get-to-Know-Your-Team-Member games… Then I found out what I’d really been anxious to know: the department I’d be working in! They passed out work schedules to everyone with their name and the name of their department in the top left corner in big, bold letters. I was so excited! Would it be Misses Apparel? Accessories? Maybe Lingerie? Or Bed & Bath? I was imagining the possibilities when I got my paper and it simply read: Shoes.

Yes, shoes. I almost laughed out loud when I read that at the top of my work schedule. The people around me all had sophisticated, multi-syllabic department names on the tops of their papers like: Junior Menswear, Intimate Apparel & Sleepwear OR Jewelry & Accessories… but on my paper it just read: SHOES. And ladies, I love shoes as much as the next gal, but let me be clear: We’re not talking Prada, Gucci or Manolo Blahnik here… we’re talking affordable-practical-department-store-shoes-for-the-whole-entire-family type deal. Needless to say, I was deflated and disappointed.

Wait a minute! I see what’s happening here!

Sure, sure, Kohl’s Department Store… AVOID a potential EEOC lawsuit and go ahead and HIRE the psycho drug user… but let’s put her in SHOES. She can’t really do much damage there. It’s literally stacks upon stacks of numerically-arranged pieces of leather and rubber, held together by synthetic glues and gels wrapped in paper and encased in cardboard. I’m sure we’ll ALL be MUCH safer that way. The worst thing she can do is wing some Sketchers at someone’s head. If she comes in strung-out, hung-over, or wound-up, she should still be able to eek out the phrase: “Ma’am, can I show you something more like a wedge in, say… a size 7?”

Accessories and Apparel are too “out front.” Housewares is obviously too dangerous, for all the knives and glass that are around. The Bed & Bath Shop is out because she might figure out a way to hang herself with the sheets and towels… And Home Decor is a no go because perhaps she would set fire to the whole damn place by lighting an obscene amount of scented candles… no, no, no… Let’s put her in SHOES.

So for several months, I stood amidst towers and towers and stacks and stacks of shoe boxes for 6 hours at a time… for $7.35 an hour… occasionally fetching a different size from the stockroom and once assisting in the investigation of a shoplifting incident. At least I didn’t have to touch anyone’s feet. And I never felt like ripping a customer’s head off… well, almost never. Maaaaybe once or twice… 3 times MAX. But that was the great thing about the prescription medication… I may not have been working in a cool or glamourous department—but then again—I was probably too medicated to care.

Taste the Rainbow

Although only 36, my daily needs for pharmaceutical assistance seems to be growing exponentially. Granted, it is largely due to the psychotic, indecisive weather we’ve been having lately, but still the collection seems to grow by the day.

In an effort to shave valuable seconds off of my usual morning rush-around routine, I have begun setting out this plethora of daily meds the night before. I open each impenetrable child (AND adult) proof bottle and count out the colorful pills that will assist me on the next day’s journey.

Sitting in the bottom of my cereal bowl, they strongly resemble a handful of Skittles. They exist in a myriad of shapes and colors and look rather enticing as though they might actually be sort of yummy…

  • The red one bolsters my immune system, gives me energy and helps to naturally regulate my central nervous system.
  • The pink one keeps my eyes from watering, nose from running and throat from itching.
  • The orange one enables me to breathe with my mouth closed.
  • The peach one calms me down and takes me to my “happy place” whenever I choose to go.
  • The yellow one works to eradicate the infection that has taken up residence in my sinuses and inner ear.
  • The green one acts as an herbal crutch that claims to stave off the troubles of an immune system crippled by the violently swinging weather patterns this time of year.(The jury is still out on whether or not this one even works.)
  • The blue one allows me to walk amongst the living relatively pain-free.
  • And the purple one… well that one is for everyone who comes within 50 feet of me. It pretty much protects them from my misguided wrath, inappropriate emotional outbursts and/or tears.

Needless to say, I am looking forward to Mother Nature making up her damn mind about whether it is summer or still spring or winter or what-the-hell-ever . But until then, I’ll fill up a glass of water each morning and continue to taste the rainbow. Trust me, it really is best for all of us.