As a kid, curvy roadways used to make me violently ill. There’s something about the constant turning, causing the stomach to shift from side to side. It seems like every time my family took out on a winding road trip, it would be either burning hot outside, or damp outside, so the car interior was always warm and muggy, so the nausea of the rocking back and forth - sliding a little along the vinyl back seat – unsecured by a seat belt, came along with uncomfortable sweats. Recently, I drove through Newberg, a small town about 25 miles southwest of Portland. I will always associate Newberg with car sickness. When my family moved from Portland to the Oregon coast, we passed through and I asked if we could stop, because I thought that I was going to throw up. The deep breathing my mom suggested was not working. We stopped off at a donut shop. It was a rainy and humid mid-morning. A common rainy Oregon day: wet and gloomy and strangely warm and humid. The kind where you need a jacket to keep your clothes dry, but you don’t really want to wear more layers. The four of us sat inside the donut shop with a few plain round cake treats in the center of the table. My dad seemed to have a thing about ordering the plainest donuts in the world. If I think back on it, his decision was likely partially based on the fact that they were the cheapest option, but it’s just as likely that his decision was to not offend anyone’s tastes, which always had the opposite effect. My brother and I each had a half pint carton of milk and my parents had styrofoam cups of coffee. My stomach was mildly better, but my head was still spinning and I felt like I was burning from the inside, which I remember because my dad was getting impatient and wanted to get back on the road. I chewed the same bite of that donut for what seemed like hours, until it became a viscous goo that wadded up in the crevices of my gums with no intention of going anywhere near my throat. I felt like I would feel years later when I experienced my first tragic hangover and every one after that. I stared at the milk. I hate milk. I always hated milk. I was always being given milk and I could not figure out why. My mom had opened it for me, so I was afraid I would get lectured about waste, but luckily my bother chugged it down with his strangely amplified swallowing noises. Glug Glug Glug. Welcome to Newberg.
Why was I passing through Newberg? I’m not really sure. I have made reasons that take me to or through Yamhill County four weekends in a row. This most recent trip, I took a route I haven’t used in years, after having driven back and forth through there countless times as part of that two hour trek from Lincoln City to Portland and back. Not far from where I remember that now long gone donut shop, I turned right onto a highway I don’t think I’ve ever noticed before. It was a narrow two lane road that immediately began drifting back and forth needlessly. Though I no longer seem to get car sick, I still don’t appreciate these types of roads. I don’t have a particular affinity for driving, beyond the convenience it provides, so it all feels like too much work. Yet, here I’ve been spending parts of my weekends driving through the countryside. I suppose it’s a way to get out of the house responsibly during the Covid lockdown. It’s also been a place I’ve imagined as an escape over the last several years. I explained this a couple of years ago in the post Jennifer She Said. The rustic Yamhill County has become a wine connoisseur hotspot since those days of plain donuts and car sickness, yet it has retained its quiet rural time capsule aesthetic. It is still sprinkled with tiny towns with broken streets often slowed down by commuting tractors creeping past small local markets, dive bars, tiny schoolhouses, and now the occasional fancy tasting room for a nearby vineyard. The escape daydreams started popping into my head with the image of living alone in some small house, working evenings at a small local pizza shop pouring pitchers of beer for parents after a local high school game, sharing odd philosophical notions or inventing on gossip to the locals. I’d imagine I’d spend my days writing – believing that I actually had the talent and the will, and possibly hosting a local radio trade show, trying to sell or trade off Orville’s rusty back hoe or Thelma’s old claw foot bathtub that’s been sitting out back for the past 20 years and maybe spinning Shoegaze records for the farmers to enjoy. Of course, these ideas hinge on some alternate reality where towns of less than a thousand people would have a radio station, the pizza place was still in business, and that I could survive on minimal wages, no healthcare coverage, or a nearby massive medical staff of specialists to manage my wonderful genetic syndrome. The alternate vision? That one involves going out to some random field at the edge of a forest to die in that peaceful setting. I suppose it could be considered alarming that I keep finding myself returning there every week, but I have no plan. No plan at all.
The day before, I was at the work office when a full on panic attack struck me. I suddenly could not catch my breath, I became light-headed, and an overwhelming feeling of alarm surged through me like a lightning strike. I do not blame my job directly, though I’m pretty sure it was triggered by a flash flood of the usual insane vague emails I so often receive, full of demands that I rarely have not been provided the proper tools to address. These messages tapped into the incredible weight of anxiety that is already in place and has become intolerable. A lot of us are dealing with anxiety, uncertainty, and isolation during these past few months of pandemic lockdown, and I have not been immune. I honestly thought when this all began to disrupt our lives, that I would manage fairly well, since I have spent most of my life in a kind of self-imposed lockdown. I could not have been more incorrect. I have been battling depression for the past several years, made more acute after my 2015 Halloween hemorrhagic stroke, and these past few months have absolutely exacerbated all of my greatest fears. I have been mostly cut off from my small group of loved ones who I rely on for support and therefore am spending way too much time dwelling on the emptiness that I feel. Consciously and logically, I know that I can make decisions to choose to see the positive, but my brain will not allow these things. Instead, I am left terrified, hopeless, and listless – powerless to affect change. When any additional challenge passes my way, like the work emails, the bottom drops out and I feel like I’m free falling. The only option that is to surrender and allow the inevitable crash to happen.
About six miles in to my journey along this recently discovered highway I turned onto, I had my window down, and I was trying to feel relaxed by the breeze whipping into my face. The music of Russian trio акульи слёзы (Shark’s Tears: https://sharkstears.bandcamp.com/music ) was loudly enveloping me like a mournful blanket of melancholy. As I approached an actual fork in the road, I veered to the right and up a slope into a forested stretch – away from the open fields of the previous couple of miles. It was there, along the roadside, at the end of a tiny gravel driveway, I spotted a plain white campaign style yard sign with block letters reading “Don’t Give Up.” I began gasping for breath again. Would I begin to hyperventilate like I had the day before? I could feel blood rush into my sinuses pressing in like a punch to the nose. The sign brought to mind memories of the Frankie Goes to Hollywood “Frankie Says” slogans that they so brilliantly used to promote their music back when I was first beginning to spend all of my money on records. I’m not sure if this flashback was the cause of the sudden emotional reaction, or because the sign was so unexpected, like a cosmic message placed there along my unplanned path to put my mind at ease. I began to think about the Peter Gabriel / Kate Bush "Don't Give Up" duet. It was a song that I adored when So was first released. It tugged at the heartstrings and shone like a beacon of hope. As close as I possibly could, I identified as a young teen with the Peter Gabriel character of the song, and longed for the soothing, comforting voice of the Kate Bush character to guide me back from the proverbial ledge. The older and more jaded I became, the less effective the song. It was too contrived, almost to the point of pure cheese - but that bass-line is impeccable. Sort of like Depeche Mode’s “Blasphemous Rumours,” which is so heavy handed that when the life support machine sound effects come in like Darth Vader having an asthmatic attack, I can’t help but laugh, despite concurring with the song’s message that there is no such thing as fair and that there is no spiritual grand plan. There is no plan at all.
Soon I was back onto a bigger and straighter highway heading back to where I live. Knowing that I was going back, pushed my thoughts far from the hopeful encouragement of the "Don't Give Up" sign, or is it an unrealistic command? The realization that nothing is changing for the better only began to fuel my urgent desperation for escape and the inability to know how. I began to feel completely exhausted. The lids of my eyes began to linger against each other when I blinked. The image of driving off the road into the strange swampy field adjacent to the road passed through my thoughts, but instead I pulled onto the shoulder, got out and leaned against the car, and was again overcome by uncontrolled panic. Erratic breathing, nausea and pressure built up from within so quickly that I thought I might burst. This was a new kind of car sickness. I stayed there for a long time, as I began to calm down. I fought off the urge to lie down on the blacktop next to the fog line and drift off to sleep. Instead I checked my phone. No messages.
Why has this time now been so difficult to deal with? I have been through a lot of challenging times, I have always found a way to battle through. When my life has been in the balance with a myriad of emergency health struggles, I have been a fighter. I have refused to give in. I have never worked harder, than I do when I have had to recover from devastating surgeries and debilitating medications. During my three years of dialysis, I was defiant and challenged myself to continue to live life as if I was healthy and wasn’t spending 4-5 hours every other day being tortured. I was not going to give up. Perhaps, during those times, the struggle was tangible. I had something in front of me to deal with directly. I had timelines and goals. Relearning what once were simple tasks, allowed me to take heart in seeing progress. I feel none of that promise anymore and I do not know what to do. This is like trying to fight my own shadow. How do people turn this around? It does not seem possible?
I want to thank the few folks out there who know that I am in a dark place and have reached out to offer support (I hope you know who you are). It means more to me than I can ever express. I also want to apologize for being a burden. I would not have made it this far without you. I do not wish to push my problems onto anyone and would rather be a positive part of your lives. I’m just unsure of how to get there.