It was the dead of night. I was grieving, ill, wracked with pain, starving, sleep-deprived, prone to hallucination and withdrawing from antidepressants. How much worse could it get? A lot, according to Murphy’s Law.
So a few weeks ago my Dad died and I got to experience what grief really feels like. It’s surreal and transcendental. One moment, it feels like your loved one is at peace and so all is right with the world. The next moment you realize that you’re spinning around in space on a giant ball that is completely devoid of the one person that you always knew to be there.
With grief, you’re so exhausted you can’t sit up in bed but so freaked out by death that you can’t sleep. The way I dealt with it was to smoke copious amounts of marijuana, because it’s the only medicine that works for me. In fact, it was the only thing that could lessen my crying jags and induce me to sleep and eat. The problem was that I was still very sad, so I decided to self-medicate with sugar.
I ate a two-pound lemon meringue pie in under 48 hours, drank four cans of soda, had a pound of chocolate-covered pretzels. At Starbucks I had a venti matcha latte every day for 18 days straight, and they come with a lot of sugar. I polished off a bottle of wine somewhere along the way, and had more doughnuts than I could count.
Then my pancreas started to ache. It got worse and worse, like someone was kicking me in the stomach and back. By the end of the day I was in the doctor’s office, and she was checking me for signs of pancreatitis. So not only did it feel like the world was ending because my father had just died, but now I also felt like my own life was ending, that’s how bad the pain was.
In fact, the physical pain matched the severity of the emotional pain I was feeling. And this pancreas illness really freaked me out. I already have other family members with cancer, and I don’t want to have it too. I vowed there and then to take better care of my digestive health. My doctor told me not to eat anything for a few days until the pain subsided, so I was very hungry on this particular night.
In my quest for better health, I learned that pharmaceutical drugs can really wreak havoc with digestive organs. In fact, the 45 milligrams of Remeron that I had been taking every night for years in order to sleep has been shown to cause pancreatitis. So I knew I had to stop taking it. I went cold turkey and was lucky enough to have minimal side effects. That’s not always the case for everyone, so I don’t recommend it.
Some of the side effects that happen when you suddenly stop taking your antidepressants include nausea, depression, panic attacks and hallucinations. Many people who quit Remeron have reported hallucinations. But that didn’t worry me too much, because I’m already prone to hallucination. That’s because, aside from having ADHD, I’m also schizoaffective. This means that I’m slightly bipolar and slightly schizophrenic.
I realized this only a few years ago. One of the main reasons that it took so long to get a diagnosis and treatment was the social stigma around mental illness. But once I got over the fear of being crazy, and the feelings of shame about my imperfect mind, I began to get a handle on recognizing, discussing and managing my symptoms. The constant nightmare of not knowing that I was ill, and then wondering why the world kept going crazy every so often, was finally over.
When I hallucinate, it’s usually something small and inconsequential, like little dark specks that I’ll see out of the corner of my eye, the kind that make you think you saw a bug crawling on a wall for a moment but then you blink and it’s gone. Or sometimes I’ll feel things instead, like bug bites, which are sudden and painful. Or I’ll hear things, like a rustling in the curtains or the click of a light switch.
So on this one particular night, when I had finally run out of weed, I spent it fully awake out in the living room so as not to wake the husband, curled up into a ball and wracked with stomach and back pain. When I wasn’t busy sobbing about my father, I was hyperventilating through a panic attack because of the drug withdrawal, clutching a pillow and rocking back and forth until it didn’t feel like I’d drop dead of pure terror.
Luckily I had a Stephen King book to read, which helped to take my mind off of absolutely everything. Somewhere around midnight, just as I was really getting into the book, I started hearing the curtain fabric rustling a little bit. But I figured it was just a hallucination and ignored it. Then it got louder, and so I finally looked up, and then almost shit a brick at what I beheld.
A creature the size of a small bat had sailed in through the living room window. I could hear and feel its wings beating erratically as it landed on the wall and began clumsily climbing up and down the fabric. I knew at once that I might be hallucinating, but had to make sure. Perhaps it was just the spirit of my father visiting me, or maybe I had fallen to sleep and was having one hell of a panic dream.
At first, I tried greeting the possible hallucination with magical thinking. My mind thought something along the lines of, “Yay, a pretty, dark, winged creature has come to sit with me in my hour of loneliness!” Oh, how lucky I felt for a while, as I watched it fluttering around the curtains, then landing on the wall to crawl and jump around. “Is it a gecko that can fly?” I marveled.
Then it started flying toward me and back away from me, as if it had a message for me that it was trying to relay. But the closer to me it got, the more I realized that this creature was no angel. It wasn’t even a dream or a hallucination. Dear God, I wish it had been. But no, it was a gigantic cockroach. No, not one of those Palmetto bugs. This thing had all the markings a German roach, but one that ate Palmetto bugs for snacks.
And it could fly, too. This was supposed to be impossible. I immediately felt a responsibility to try and capture it and then call a local entomologist, that’s how big this roach was. I never even thought to break out the camera and try getting a photo. But maybe that’s because the thing kept moving, and my hands were shaking much too badly.
So instead, I ran in a panic toward the bedroom and attempted to rouse the husband, who gets crazy intense when he hasn’t slept. And he hadn’t been sleeping all that well lately, either. I begged him to help me with the roach. “It’s really big!” I tried, but everyone says that every time they see a bug in Hawaiʻi, so nobody has any sympathy.
“I’m so tired I can’t even move!” he hollered at me while I jumped, panic-stricken, from foot to foot, hyperventilating in the hallway. “I see those things on the Ala Wai Canal all the time,” he offered. “It’s bigger than those!” I tried again, but I just heard him swearing from underneath the pillow that he’d pulled over his head.
Finally, I remembered that we had a can of Raid. However, it was pretty much empty. It used to be able to shoot a long, steady stream of poison out so that you could bring down a bug from across the room without breaking a sweat. But now I’d be lucky if there was even a little puff of chemicals left in it.
Meanwhile, the roach was really making a racket, flying into everything in the living room, landing on all the breakable stuff out of my reach, then trying repeatedly to make its way toward me. So there I was, out in the living room after midnight, jumping around, shrieking, clambering on top of things so that I could try to get a look at this giant, nightmare bug, then running away when it flew toward me.
Finally, I steeled my courage and reached out with the can of Raid. I aimed it in the roach’s general direction and pressed the dispenser button. The can wheezed, sounding exhausted. The roach on the wall just kept eyeballing me. It sat there for a while like it was just planning to fly at me again, when suddenly it lost its grip on the wall, stumbled around for a while and finally fell behind the huge entertainment system.
I felt immediately triumphant, the goosebumps in my arms starting to subside. Maybe now I could finally relax! But then I felt sad and guilty. “This thing could fly and it came to be with me and I killed it! What have I done?!” I wailed silently to myself, lest I piss off the hubby again. So I spent a half hour crying about the poor bug that I had just killed. Hadn’t the death of my father taught me that all life was sacred? Yes, but that roach was coming right for me!
By the time I ended the metaphysical battle for good and evil in my head, I was feeling spooked out once again. That’s because I remembered a creepy thing about big roaches, at least about the Palmetto bugs that used to fly into my Dad’s place in Kauaʻi and linger there for days after getting sprayed by poison. They’d crawl around and twitch on their backs like bug zombies, kicking their legs out at me every time I tried to pick them up with a tissue to throw them away.
I wondered if this could mean that the giant roach I sprayed was still alive. It didn’t help that I was unable to find its body and verify this fact. The entertainment system that the roach fell behind was right near the bed I sat on. I didn’t want it to come crawling onto the bed, seeking its revenge on me. Plus, there were several crevasses and holes within the entertainment system that a wounded roach could easily make its way through.
So I started putting tissues into all the holes in the entertainment system that I could find. That is, the tissues I wasn’t busy blowing my nose with and crying into. Then I stayed up for a few more hours, still worried about the roach. While sitting there on the bed, because I still couldn’t relax enough to lie down yet, I began to get angry at my husband.
It was about three in the morning by this point. I began thinking: "How could he not have come to my aid? My father wasn’t here to save me anymore; now it was his job. His first test at being my sole care-taker had ended in failure. How dare he sleep? How can he sleep? He doesn’t even know I killed the roach yet! Or did I?"
And because it’s really uncool to march into a bedroom and announce all of this stuff to a sleeping person, I huffily banged around in the kitchen much too early in the morning instead, while passive-aggressively making coffee. Inevitably, this woke him up.
My husband’s immediate, fully-rested apologies were drowned out by my still-very-awake “How dare you!”s for a while until I realized that we were cool. We agreed that, in the future, bug killing was his job, because that can of Raid is now well and truly spent. Then he told me to remove all of the tissues that I had stuffed into his mother’s entertainment system, “or else she’s gonna think you’re crazy,” he added. “I mean crazier than she already thinks you are!”
Maybe my mother-in-law could put a screen on her window. I told her about my bug adventure the next day while we were both in the in the safe, cockroach-free, sun-lit room. She shuddered and then offered this sage explanation: “Yeah, sometimes they fly in like that.” That’s life, I guess. And death. And Murphy’s Law. And everything in between. Sometimes they fly in like that. Shit happens. But somehow, the world keeps on spinning.
And here’s the thing: I still can’t prove to anybody that this bug was real. Because it fell behind the entertainment system, I still have no proof that I wasn’t actually just hallucinating. But if I can get someone to help me disassemble and move the entire entertainment systm, that dead roach / angel / flying gecko / bat should still be there. And then we can measure it for the record books.
But if it’s not behind that entertainment system, then I’ll know with dawning horror that no amount of screen material will ever keep out the next giant bug, because that’ll mean they're coming from inside my brain. Or maybe there’s another, bigger bug out there who came and ate this one.
I don’t know which of those possibilities sounds worse to me right now. But I tell you, I just came back from the living room and I heard a rustling in the curtains out there. I’m gonna chalk this one up to the hallucinations this time. Sometimes those are easier to deal with than real, actual bugs.
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