Memoirs from Med Leave: The Way It Began

Life is kind of like CVS. You go in and realize all the advice/coupons you should’ve taken when it’s too late. I mean, I was well aware of all kinds of important advice-like slogans. I knew how to puff, puff, and pass. I knew not to dance in the disco snow. But you realize all the good advice you haven’t taken when you wake up in a freshman dorm’s laundry room. Or a student outreach-peer facilitation-advocacy-network-alliance-community-awareness committee meeting that you’re not actually apart of. Or office hours. You see, as overstressed college students we have a million reasons to be constantly tired. But one of them usually isn’t Xanax.

When I think about my intervention moment it was nothing like what people in rehab said theirs was like. Most notably, there was no circle of concerned family members taking turns to say, “you have a problem” and “we have been so worried about you.” There was no chance to shake my head furiously like a bewildered Disney character and the facial expression of a contemptuous baby in a hilarious tumblr-ready gif. No one ever let me have my moment of denial.

Instead, I think my intervention is better understood as more of a capture, which is to say that campus security captured me. Even in this regard, reality underperformed. I always dreamed that if I were intercepted by a law enforcement/authority figure/sexy Halloween costume authority figure, I would be gushing blood a la La Boheme and like falling ass-backwards in a delicate way, my appendages limp and succumbing to The Elements, be they tuberculosis, or heroin, or patriarchy or whatever. And as I was straight-jacketed and thrown onto an ambulance I would say something heroic like, “ Go on, Christian. Tell our story.”

But it did not happen like that. It was not a musical. It was also not swift and abrupt like an Ernest Hemingway novel. Instead it was all horrible and poorly lit and anti-climactic.

Like most college students, I was at the library while under the influence of Adderall. Not a lot of Adderall, just a touch, you know. It was a horrible gray day and it had been harder to get out of bed than usual, and so I took roughly 25 mg, which, for all you prudes out there that need a sense of perspective, is roughly a normal dose. And so I swallowed three tiny 2mg Xanax to take the edge off of the Adderall. It was just another perfect white girl solution.

And then I thought, “I want to be surrounded by art and culture. I want to think about the homework that I have to do in a place where I may even do it.” And so I went to the library. This was my undoing.

By the time I had diligently packed my backpack and thought about work and such things, it was roughly 4:30pm, the kind of time that everybody hopes to start doing work and nobody actually was. And I, despite the gray day, or because of the drug cocktail maybe, or whatever, felt a strange sense of kinship with the library. While people sort of busily trudged around the library like most people do, I sort of took satisfied steps and thought about how lovely and pleasant the idea of learning was. It was the kind of idea I could really use as a mental screensaver for a while, and so I thought about it quite deeply.

And the more I thought about it, the more it occurred to me what I wanted to learn. I wanted to learn about Spanish textiles! And the origins of Frosty the Snowman! And about 17th century Japanese pornography! In resume-speak, one could say that I pursued these passions, which of course, in non-resume-speak refers to the fact that I was briefly skimming all of these things in the shelves of the library, flipping through pages antsily and learning! When the campus authorities apprehended me later, I would hazily tell them that my only crime was learning.

But somewhere between Phoenician animal prints and 17th century Japanese porn, the cinematography in my brain began making the whole picture far less real. I splattered my self on the floor with any number of books from the shelves and put my chin between my fists as I gingerly flipped through them, a pose perfected from years of emulating Babysitter’s Club book covers.

This is the last thought I remember having. The next thing I knew, I was being pried from a copy of “Absolute erotic, Absolute grotesque: The living, dead, and undead in Japan's imperialism, 1895-1945” that I had slobbered on in my sleep.

“Sir, we’re going to need you to leave the library.”

“No, thanks,” I said sleepily.

Somewhere, my spirit animal was having a far bettered-directed and graceful moment than I was, slipping away while saying thoughtful and mournful things while I awkwardly wriggled under the halogen lighting. My spirit animal is a bitch.

But I was already apprehended, and before I knew it I was in the back of a campus security vehicle, limply asking, “Where are we going?” and “What time is it?” It turns out I had taken nearly 25 Xanax over the course of my innocent library visit. When I eventually dozed off, I rotated in my sleep (which my psychiatrist says is a very normal manifestation of my neurosis), setting off the alarms in the library, which had long been closed. It was 4:30am. We were heading to the hospital.

This goes to emphasizes one secondary, yet still important, point I’d like to make. When you have the opportunity to do that much Xanax, find a quiet place to sleep.

It’s been a long journey, but after taking off a year of school to go through rehab, and to think about the patterns and behaviors that I had once considered normal until they eventually led me and spirit animal to come to blows, I realized that I wasn’t really afraid of the constant twitching of the light fixtures in the library or its loud late-night Zamboni workers, nor my addied-out, overstimulated peers, or even the ebb and flow of life itself. As I realized, I was mostly anxious because of how I might react to my own anxiety. I was afraid to try pain, discomfort, and failure, and because of that, I failed.

Not to belabor the excerptions from the canon of Hallmark Cards, but I think that failure is a lot like success. Both are out there for the taking. Neither comes in a prescription bottle. If figuring out the clear boundary between failure and success were a science, I would already know how many milligrams I needed. But it’s not. And it’s not quite a graceful, well-rehearsed, blood-spittingly-perfect art either. Or if it is an art, it’s an unevenly-produced, fluorescent-lit Kirsten Dunst independent film that underwhelms expectations sometimes, and yet other times has moments of rare levity. But however tiring or magnificent or scary or useful your failures is up to you. And that is some advice worth blacking in for.