Look Up An Inch
Climbing out, it turns out, is much the same as falling in. The pit has insidious walls. They reverberate like plucked piano wires. Every minute is a sound, and every minute that hits them bounces back, resounds and resounds until that minute, that moment, that second becomes endless, infinite. Each echo darkens the dark, and each sickly, sickening thought that you beg not to think glares brighter and brighter until it rewrites itself against the flesh of your brain. Until it blinds utterly.
Once a minute (a moment, a second) begins, the pit assures you: it will never end. The minute swells into cacophonous hell. You count and you count. How many seconds are in a second? You scrabble around the walls of the pit, neither up nor down, any clawhold you can find, and you count because counting means you must, however slowly, be moving forward.
But how many seconds are in a second? The answer is “unknown.” The answer is “countless.” The answer is “always one more.” You’ve built the thoughts you don’t want into the walls, and their carefully formed shells dissolve like soaked salt.
The ascent, when at last you can attempt it, is taught in endless seconds. Looking toward that rim high above, where daylight peeks over to light the opposite wall—Which side should you scale? Which thoughts must you disturb to reach the top? Which echoes can you handle today?
You mustn’t look too far up. Look up an inch: fix your fingers into that handhold and nothing more. Move your right foot, then your left. Your other hand. There is a root three feet above, but you are not there yet. If you reach for it now, if you plan that leap from a platform of precariously packed dirt, if you try to jump when your ledge is barely fortified, the noise of it will ricochet against the walls, drown you with hellish sound. It will knock all the thoughts loose and send them caroming.
It’s tempting to think about a week from now, where you will be and how you will feel. Don’t. It looks impossible, squinting at it through such a telescope, for here is where you stand; between you and that place are a dozen tottery steps, a dozen fragile roots, a vast cache of images you packed so carefully away in damp clay. But now the clay is dry and brittle. It crumbles, and how can all of it, all of them, possibly hold? How can you ever reach the simplicity, the ease, of such a faraway place as peace?
Look at today. This hour. This minute. Today, I reached up and I grabbed hold, and I moved higher. Today, I did it. This hour, I missed my footing, but this minute, I found it again. This second, I will reach again, carefully, with strength, and I will knock loose a thought or two, but I will gain another inch.
Letter to a Younger Me
One day, you will stop leaving blood on piano keys.
Your hands are so dry it hurts me to imagine them. You’ve just taken that photo, the one Dad assured you will be beneficial to your future self. He was right. Through the years, you will look at that photo, at the blister-red ends of your fingers, at the curls of flaking skin, at the thin-as-mist flesh between the air outside and the blood flowing underneath, and then you’ll look down at your hands and think, “God. I don’t remember it ever being that bad.”
It was. Maybe tomorrow is the night you sit at the piano, on stage in your pajamas, the one thirty to two AM slot in the band’s 24-hour play-a-thon, and when you get up again, the ivory will be streaked and spotted with the blood you couldn’t keep inside. Mom will come out, wipe down the keys before anyone sees, and fight with herself again over whether she did well to keep you out of therapy, away from the stigma that could haunt you through college applications and job hunts. I’ll tell you what you always tell her, and what you mean: Mom, you did right and I don’t blame you. And you won’t. You still don’t.
You wash and wash. You soap until your cuticles are raw and your skin sloughs off. You don’t have a name for it yet, but you will. You’ll seek therapy yourself eventually, and learn that it’s just one of a hundred ways obsessive compulsion disorders itself. In ten years, you’ll figure out that the hand washing, the intrusive thoughts and the bitter fear of the kind of person you really are underneath where no one can see… You’ll discover that it’s all one beast, many heads of the same hydra coiled in your brain. And by the time you seek therapy, you will be brave enough to be loudmouthed, to declare your particular twist aloud for anyone who asks, but you will see—in the experience of your friend with anorexia nervosa, your other friend trying to quit Prozac, your cousin sleeping a night in the mental health ward—that the stigma is alive and well, and the twelve-year-old you would have been eaten alive. Your resolve to assuage your mother’s guilt will strengthen and you will fight that battle with her again and again, trying to give her peace. And one day, twenty-five years from you, there will come a year where everyone is washing their hands all the time, and you will know then that you have the Most Skills.
But right now, just wipe the blood off. Wipe it off and keep your secrets from your nosy schoolmates. Don’t hate yourself for washing yet again. This time you were not victorious, but next time, you will turn the tap off and put the soap away and go about your business. Next time you will win.
And I can’t be sure—Future Grete has not yet written me a letter—but I don’t think you will ever stop playing the piano.
Isn’t it funny that the hardest part of this for me is the author’s note? Not what I expected at all. But it makes sense. I’d much rather show myself through my characters and plots and places, through snippets that are removed from me. I can pack and portion out and partition there, but here, I can’t break it into manageable pieces.
My obsessive compulsive disorder isn’t something I like to talk about. Depression, I’ve gotten good at saying out loud. I own it, and I’m proud that I can own it these days, that it’s getting less stigmatic to hold that in your hands and say, this is mine. There, I have taken the power back. But OCD gets too hard to explain, and I get it, I really do: how do you explain the feeling of constant gaslighting, by yourself against yourself, to someone who has never experienced that distrust of their own mind? When did it first occur to me that my mind was not entirely trustworthy in the first place? Who will really get it when you admit that you’re a little afraid of yourself? That you’re ashamed your mind behaves the way it does and that you have to keep reteaching yourself, revisiting why? That part of you might always be convinced that you deserve this shit? So much baggage I’d rather not take out and display again and again. We owners of OCD don’t even like explaining it to each other. There are good days and there are bad days, and then there are days, just days. Regular days. Let me have those for a minute.
G.B. LINDSEY’s first love has always been writing: as a child, she cultivated such diverse goals as becoming “a cowgirl and a writer” or “a paleontologist and a writer.” Aside from her salacious affair with the horror genre, she loves to write sci-fi, romance, historical fiction, and short stories. Her day job is in kidney transplant but other interests include singing, reading voraciously, and period drama movie nights. She lives in California with her absolutely phenomenal cat.