I didn’t have a bedtime growing up. Not because my parents didn’t care, but because my anxiety was so great that if they forced me close my book and turn out the lights before I was ready, I’d never fall asleep at all. Instead, I’d lie awake in agony, tossing and turning, thinking about the book and life and everything else in the world that could keep me from sleeping, trying to talk myself off the metaphorical edge, staring bleakly into the gaping abyss of soothing sleep, but never falling in.
I was kind of dramatic as a kid.
For a little while I shared a room with my younger sister. At night, my parents would turn on a CD of tranquil melodies to send us off into a blissful sleep. It should have worked (after all, the cover was a lovely beach scene), but it never did – not for me anyway. My sister would fall to sleep almost immediately, and I would pray fervently that I wouldn’t still be up when it ended. I almost always was. I almost always cried.
So I’d read – to quiet my mind, to dream, to forget, to fall in love with new characters and new stories and new worlds. Until eventually, I’d fall asleep.
Anxiety has followed me into adulthood. There have been moments – days or months that passed easily, when my breaths came normally, when I didn’t feel like I was stumbling blindly through a jungle. College, surprisingly, was relatively free of anxiety. I thrive in an academic environment and there was something soothing and familiar about the entire scene.
Then came adulthood. And marriage. And baby. And cancer. And more responsibilities and fears than I ever knew were possible. I started having panic attacks, spiraling into moments of pure terror. And the guilt I felt while having them was thick, heavy, and oppressive. I wasn’t sick. I had to keep it together. I had a family to care for. A job to do. A house to keep in order. A book to write. Students to teach. People to please.
Each responsibility, each task piled onto a precariously tall and wobbly tower that constantly threatens to topple over. And I know that if I falter or stumble, it will all come tumbling down and I’ll be crushed beneath it. So I breathe slowly and I step carefully. And I don’t write.
I don’t write at all. This is the first thing I’ve written in over a month. I think about it all of the time – deadlines looming, editors emailing, critique groups worrying, failing, failing, always failing. And when I choke, breaths catching in my throat, the only thing that calms me is turning away from words or falling into someone else’s.
So I read, inhaling words and stories like they’re life-giving breath, like they could sustain me. And maybe they can. Maybe they will. And maybe one day, I’ll pick up a pen or I’ll sit in front of a screen and the words will come again. And someone else will read my books to quiet their mind, to dream, to forget, to fall in love with new characters and new stories and new worlds.