‘From a Time of Ambiguity’ (Entry One): ‘On Maturation’

I stand upstairs in the bathroom that us three brothers share. I proceed to brush my teeth, as my dad, who is a dentist at Preston Forest Tower in the city, taught me to. I feel the bristles go back and forth on the surface of my teeth, scratching away the stains and plaque that accumulated throughout the long day. I make sure to reach spots that might be difficult to maneuver, but that are “extremely important to brush,” as my dad used to say.

While I was in the restroom using the toothbrush to clean the enamel on my molars, I heard the most frightening noise that I could have possibly heard. Have you ever heard the sound someone makes when they get punched in the abdomen? Have you ever heard an overly dramatic sneezer, who makes the sneeze seem fatal by the decibels produced? Well, this sound that I heard while brushing my teeth, at least in my head, emulated a mix between these two sounds. My older brother, Brian, had vomited in the bathroom downstairs. I heard the stress on his stomach, pressing his diaphragm into his rib cage. I also heard the content hit the water in the toilet bowl, making the sound of bullets hitting the ocean from an aircraft during war. The combination of his cry of pain and the splashing made me cower in terror. I started to feel anxious, my heart rate increasing to the speed of a jackhammer taking out the cement at a construction sight. My body began to heat up so much that if you had placed a piece of foil on my arm and cracked open an egg, you would have breakfast in about five minutes. I could hardly even comprehend what had occurred. This all happened in a matter of seconds. I couldn’t handle it. I ran downstairs.

I have always disliked throwing up, even when I was too young to know what it was. However, about two weeks prior to this incident, I was sick after a few years of not experiencing the feeling of throwing up. This brought my dislike into an all-out crippling anxiety. After my sickness, both of my parents had caught what I had. My little brother was next, and with each person getting sick, my anxiety grew. The monster that was my anxiety was feeding off of the sickness of my family members. Lastly, my older brother got sick, pushing me to a point where reason did not exist.

I ran into my parent’s room, bursting open the door, possibly almost taking it off it’s hinges. I remember the intensely cold feeling of that cement floor. Why did we, and still do we, have cement floors in that room? I’m not completely certain. But, I remember feeling that icy ground chill my feet. I didn’t notice it then because I could not manage to focus on anything other than my brother’s sickness. I walk in and see my mother sitting in her bed, under her covers and in her nightgown. She could tell something was wrong, but before she could ask me what was wrong, I scream, “Brian threw up!”

My mother, one who had dealt with a lifetime of depression, had been in a mental place like this before to know how to deal with such an irrational child. Mental disorders such as anxiety, depression, insomnia, and more run in the “Lankford side of the family,” as I have been told a few too many times. Needless to say, my mom, for the most part, knew how to bring me out of this panic attack.

“Mom, did you not hear me? He threw up! It’s horrible, and I can’t deal with it, and he can’t do this to me! He needs to—,“ I said.

“—Joey, do think Brian has any control over this? He’s sick, and he got it from you. You’ve already had it. Don’t blame this on him! Just calm down!” My mom said this with the utmost care, but still managing to be clear and forceful with her words, hitting me like daggers piercing my heart.

“Mom, you don’t understand! It could be a different sickness! He could get me sick again! He can’t do this to me! How could he do this to me?”

Right then, Brian slowly walked into the room. I would have been more comfortable with a half-dead zombie, starving for brains, waking into the room. It, in fact, was not a half-dead zombie, but my brother who simply had a stomach bug, something that cut into my soul much more severely.

I yelled to my older brother, “Brian, no! You need to leave now! This can’t happen!”

“Joey, it’s not his fault and you’re not going to get sick, and even if you were, you can’t possibly control that! Please calm down honey!” My mom said this to me, turning to my brother making sure he was fine. My brother proceeded to tell his story of what happened, and I continued to uncontrollably think about the possible outcomes of the situation. My brother finally left the room, while I managed to continue in this frenzied state of mind, while my mom helped me through this “psychosis.”

This, along with me getting sick, sparked my clinical anxiety. That night when Brian got sick, my mom suggested I go see a therapist. I soon got put on insomnia meds, hoping it would help with my sleeping issues, and in effect maybe my anxiety. After finding that this helped my minor insomnia, but not my anxiety, my psychiatrist prescribed me an anti-anxiety medication. For the past two or three years, I have been on and off medication, and my anxiety has fluctuated. It started off serious, not being such a problem my junior year, but becoming an issue my senior year.

It was not that I was so cowardly and downtrodden, even quite the contrary; but for some time I had been in an irritable and tense state, resembling hypochondria. I was so immersed in myself and had isolated myself so much from everyone that I was afraid of not only meeting my sick brother across the hall, but of meeting anyone at all. I was crushed by anxiety. I had entirely given up attending to my schoolwork and did not desire to attend to anything of the sort. Each day became an obligation. It was always terribly hot out, being from Dallas, and moreover it was close, crowded; dust, wood, brick everywhere in the old school building that the miniscule Cambridge School of Dallas inhabited. And that high school stench consisting of body odor, teen angst, and highly contagious illness filled the air. All at once these things unpleasantly shook my already overwrought nerves. The intolerable stench from the crowded restaurants, and the drunken teenagers I somehow found myself surrounded by, influencing my own actions, completed the loathsome and melancholy coloring of the picture of my anxiety.[1]

Going into my senior year of high school, without the use of anti-anxiety medication, I managed to fall into the dark abyss once again. I found myself worrying about each and every soul that I encountered; not in the sense that I cared for them, but in the sense that I feared that they would infect me with some new contagion. I found myself extremely alone, despite having friends around me who cared for me, and family who knew the darkness of my mind. My mother recommended that I get back on medication and return to therapy. I did so, relatively reluctantly, but knowing that I inhabited an extremely dark and solitary place. I went back to medication, coupled with therapy, which seemed to help some.

My senior year in English class, rather than having tests, we practiced the method of seminar, discussion based examinations about questions that rise from the text at hand. At the beginning of the year, deep in anxiety, I didn’t care too much for this pedagogy. However, starting in the second semester, partially better off but still in an extremely depressed time in my life, I started to engage more in seminar. We started the second semester with Shakespeare’s Othello and I found myself incredibly intrigued by the characters of this play. I was disgusted with Iago, invested in the main character of Othello, and completely devoted to sweet Desdemona. This is where I began to invest myself for the first time my senior year. Then, a huge, five hundred and fifty page book was placed in front of me. The next book that we sought to investigate, Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky, would change my life.

Because our own life is not enough, “we want to see with other eyes, to imagine with other imaginations, to feel with other hearts, as well as with our own,” as C. S. Lewis wrote in Experiment in Criticism.[2] Literature uniquely enlarges our being. No literary work has transformed my life more dramatically than Fyodor Dostoevsky’s 1866 novel, Crime and Punishment. Raskolnikov, the main character of the novel, offers a portrait of anxiety. By absorbing myself in Raskolnikov’s anxiety, I indirectly and miraculously found a cure for my own anxiety. This novel healed me because I got out of the way long enough to focus on the hurts, needs, and aspirations of someone from a different time and place, someone, it turns out, who made me realize that I am not alone in my struggle to be free of crippling anxiety. I was able to see with Raskolnikov’s eyes, to imagine with his imagination, and to feel with his heart. If there is hope for Raskolnikov, who was in far worse shape than myself, then surely there is hope for me.

I finally found comfort. I did not find it in gaining control of my life. I found it in giving that desire for control away. As humans, no matter how hard we try, we do not have control over everything. Who can add one day to their lives through worry? We, as humans do not have this power. We may be able to decide what we eat for lunch, or which route we take to the grocery store, but ultimately, we must give up our craving for control over all aspects of our lives. This is what I was forced to do, and it is something I still wrestle with. I continue to work on giving up my want for absolute control everyday.

I recall this whole story with my older brother becoming sick, and I contemplate. How could I possibly yell at someone in such a vulnerable place? How could I stand to treat someone who loves me, and whom I love, so horribly? I think about my selfishness, as if my health was not only more important than my brothers’ health, but the most important thing period.

I recently had the flu; I had filled sinuses, a stuffed nose, a sore throat, as well as headaches and dizziness. My older brother, the same one as before, also attends this university. Rather than yelling at me, he proceeded to offer to get me Einstein bagels, pop-tarts and orange juice, and then actually doing so. Look at the contrast of how we treat each other in hard times. I cannot stand to think of how self-centered I was. I am currently trying to change this, and it is a process. I just know that I did not deserve the kindness my brother gave me when I was sick. Three years span between these two stories, but I still am in awe of the kindness that my brother extended to me.


[1] Imitation from the first two pages Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, where Dostoevsky describes the main character, Rodion Raskolnikov, and his deep anxiety. (Dostoyevsky, Fyodor. Crime and Punishment. Edited by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1993.)

[2] Lewis, C. S. An Experiment in Criticism. Cambridge: University Press, 1961.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s