Into the Deep – Chapter 1. Surfacing
As though emerging from beneath a deep pool of dark, silent water, I feel my mind starting to wake. Upward I float, from the murky depths of sleep… my heavy horizontal body losing its sense of anchoring density, a light shimmering above me, drawing me up, drawing… drawing… coaxing me to the surface. I rise like a jellyfish… gently rising to the light above me, my tentacles hanging loose and wavy in the currents of receding sleep.
The first thoughts that push at the edge of my awareness are faint, but persistent. Indistinct. Noncommittal. Steadily building. Murmur… Mutter… Mumble… They echo like lone footsteps in a distant, empty hall, and I cannot make out any distinguishing features among them, any train of deliberate thought that grabs my focus.
Gradually, the thoughts come clearer. The day awaiting me. The day ahead. No words… just images. Feelings. Sensations. The flow of the day – like the flow of all other days – taking shape tangibly in my cinematic mind.
What must I start today as a computer programmer at a small local eCommerce company….? What must I get done…? Tasks at work. Meetings to attend. How will my day likely evolve, given the duties I have and the responsibilities I must fulfill…? It all plays out in my mind like a long-familiar documentary that’s both historical and predictive.
It’s prescriptive, too. I sense the things I did not wrap up the day before. Today… I must complete my coding… I must finish that documentation… I must test the results of my work…. I must check in with the boss about my progress.
The images give way to thoughts. The thoughts became louder, sharper, more intent. My list of tasks acquires sub-tasks:
- Double-check the step-by-step flow of the program I’m designing.
- Fill in the blanks in the code samples and double-check my logic.
- Finalize the summary of the problem statement.
- Document everything I’ve done, thus far – and what I still need to get done.
- Testing. Of course. Testing.
- Make sure that my development environment is fully updated from source control, so I’m not testing the wrong version of the code and solving non-issues.
- Write down my step-by-step process for future testing.
- Log the bugs I find in the database.
- Make sure I go from start to finish in my testing cycles without interruption.
- Check in with the boss.
- Make sure he has an updated list of all that I’ve accomplished this week.
- Email him the list and make sure to follow up over the course of the day so it’s on his radar.
- Make sure he knows why it’s taken me this long to complete the coding and documentation.
My orienting list fleshes itself out in my mind, and the day ahead unfolds in my head, fully textured with clarity of thought and rich sensory detail. I see my cubicle awaiting me at the technology company where I work, I see myself walking through the motions of the day. I feel the intermittent flow of hot/cold air from the HVAC duct above my desk. I feel the floor underneath me bounce, as someone passes me in a hurry. I see my boss striding hastily across the office and hear myself calling to one of my coworkers who sits across the way. I hear the overhead sounds of white-noise air conditioning and the buzz of fluorescent lights… the hurried bustle of the sales team… the sound of the company president’s voice booming from his corner office not far from where I sit. I see the room flooded in bright, unsparing light… I see myself standing up and looking out the window on the other side of the 5-foot-high oatmeal-colored fabric-covered wall of my cubicle and catch glimpses of trees, sky, clouds… the outside world that’s been there the whole time, unbeknownst to me.
I haven’t yet stirred from the bed, but already my day has begun.
I open my eyes, and the bedroom slowly starts to come into focus. I look over at the clock on the bedside stand, and a sudden surge of irritation rushes through me.
It’s only 5:00 a.m. I need to get back to sleep.
For many people, 5:00 is the perfect time to get up. It’s quiet. The rest of the world is still sleeping. Being up this early gives them plenty of time to get ready for work and head into the office by 7:00, and get a running start on the day. Many of my coworkers start early and end their day early. They work from 7:00 till 4:00 – and they take a whole hour for lunch. They have kids to get to school and care for. Their lives require them to be early birds.
I, on the other hand, have no children, and I prefer to work a later schedule. I generally get to the office around 9:30, so I miss the heaviest commute traffic, and then I work I work till 6:30 p.m. Or I don’t take lunch so I can leave earlier.
Starting later means finishing later – not just with work, but with my whole day. Whereas some of my co-workers are in bed and asleep by 9:00 p.m., I’m usually up till at least 11:00 at night. Sometimes later. I try to get in bed at what I consider a reasonable hour (before 11:00), but it doesn’t always work out that way.
Lately there’s been a lot of that. For days on end I haven’t been able to get to sleep till nearly midnight. I’ve been nervous from the pressures at work. I’ve been in pain, with my body locking up from too much stationary sitting. All day, every day, I’ve been sitting nearly motionless at my desk, and my body pays the price in aches and pains. And sleeplessness. Irritation. Agitation. Every day, every night, my sleep deficit increases, and I’m keenly aware of it, as I glare at my alarm clock this morning, begrudging the early hour, anxious to get back to sleep.
I roll over slowly and curl up tight under the covers, trying to move my body into a comfortable position. Eventually I find a position that feels right, and I try to rest, but I cannot relax. I’m dizzy. The room is spinning. Again. And I didn’t even have anything alcoholic to drink last night.
I try another position that feels more stable, moving carefully so I don’t pull the covers off my partner, who is fast asleep beside me. The silent peace of sleep, the sensation of floating gently on drifting currents, is gone. The bed feels like it’s heaving beneath me like a ship on stormy seas. I have surfaced into what feels like a building storm.
Outside, the birds are starting to sing, and their sporadic early morning symphony fills my head. I roll over slowly, feeling the smooth sheet beneath me, trying to quiet my body and mind, but it’s not working. I rearrange my arms… reposition my legs… deep breathing in and out, counting 1… 2… 3… 4… trying to focus wholly on my breath. But it’s not working. I feel acutely fatigued, but I’m unable to do anything about it. Not with the bed rocking beneath me. Not with the room spinning slowly. Not with the sound of the birds. Not with the day before me, as my mind envisions it – planned and plotted out.
Outside, the morning light strengthens, and I look at the clock again.
It’s 6:00 a.m., and I am beside myself with frustration. The room is still, all is silent, and I know the bed is not moving. But I cannot seem to get myself righted. I’ve been trying to think of other things than the virtual movement of my bed – breathing to the count of 4 and back… relaxing my body… running through my lists of the day. The distraction has helped. So has lying flat on my stomach with my arms stretched above my head, pressed onto the pillow to give me some sense of stability. I’ve tried closing my eyes a number of times, in hopes of getting back to sleep, but when I do, my head starts to spin again, and I am jolted awake. I feel like if I move, I’ll fall out of bed completely. My stomach turns with sick reaction to something I know is not happening.
I am tired… so tired. And I’m not getting back to sleep. I can’t keep tossing and turning like this – front to back, back to front, side to side. It’s a terrible use of time. And it’s not working.
This is pointless.
Frustrated, I decide to just get up. If I’m going to be sick on my stomach, I might as well get on with my day.
I try to rise, but my body isn’t cooperating. My arms and legs aren’t doing what I tell them to. With a heave of my weight to get some momentum, I swing my legs over the side of the bed and focus on keeping myself balanced. When my feet hit the floor with a loud thud, my partner stirs and complains gruffly that I’m too loud.
“Too loud!” she exclaims, startled from her deep sleep.
She often grouses when I “throw myself out of bed,” worried that I’m not being gentle with myself. She worries that I might fall. Plus, I’m waking her up. I don’t always rise with such noisy force, but today is one of those days. Her voice sounds first faint, then reverberates in my head, and I try to think of something to say. But my head is spinning, and I have to quickly reach out to the wall to keep myself from falling. Steadying myself with one hand on the cool plaster, I try to locate my slippers with one foot while I steady myself on the other, and mumble, “Sorry…”
I want to tell her that I can’t move slowly, because if I don’t heave myself out of bed, I won’t be able to get up at all. I’m dizzy. The room is spinning. My arms and legs aren’t cooperating. The only thing in my favor is the bodyweight I can push in a certain direction that might – just might – land me upright beside the bed. I want to explain all of this to her, so it makes sense and she doesn’t get angry with me. But the words don’t come. Only a flash of nauseous temper flares up in me.
“Too loud!” my beloved says again. “You shouldn’t just throw yourself out of bed! You need to move more slowly in the morning!” Then she turns over and pulls the covers up around her ears.
Another flash of anger sparks, when she pulls my attention away from keeping my balance. My head spins, as a thousand retorts bounce around in my head like lottery balls before they fall into their slots. But I can’t respond. I need to keep my balance. I can’t dwell on my frustration, or her words. I need to move on… just get into the day.
Just get on with it, already, I think to myself. I have a lot to do, and even if I am in rough shape today, I just have to do it. I try to move quietly, so I don’t wake up my partner any more than I already have. But she’s rolled over and gone back to sleep, and as I hear her breathing deepen, a pang of envy shoots through me, that she can relax so easily.
She’s always been able to just roll over and go back to sleep.
I have never, ever been so lucky.
I pull on my “knockabout” sweatshirt and push up the sleeves. It’s the same one I pull on over my pajama top each morning, when I get up, and the ritual of pushing the sleeves up is as comfortingly familiar as the reason for doing it. The feel of fabric on my wrists – especially cuffs with seams on the inside – chafes and irritates me. When I shove the elastic up my forearms, till it’s just below my elbows, I get my first wash of relief of the day. At least that’s one thing I can control.
Stepping into on my slippers, I shuffle slowly to the bathroom. My bladder is over-full this morning, which frustrates me as the urine drains from its holding place in my body. Even sitting absolutely still on the commode, I suddenly become lightheaded and reach out to the sink counter beside me for stability. Focusing my gaze on the lines of the shower tile in front of me… holding my gaze absolutely still… steadies me, and I focus on the straight lines till my bladder is empty. Flowers and lattice-like lines jump out at me from the shower curtain, and pull my gaze away from them, concentrating on the straight horizontal lines of the tile. The floral pattern is too uneven for me, the folds of the fabric are too wavy, the colors are too variable. But I can’t keep them all from intruding on my gaze, so I get off the commode as quickly as I can, balancing myself on the vanity surface as I rise and pivot.
Washing my hands, I relish the feel of warm water flowing over my skin. It soothes and comforts me, and it’s a welcome break in the morning. But the sound of it rushing out of the spout is too loud. I adjust the spigot to slow the flow, and let the warmth envelop my hands. I “zone out” for a few minutes, feeling more balanced as I lean against the edge of the sink counter. It feels so, so good, to have my mind focused on that single point of sensation with its steady motion. It calms me, eases my anxiety, quiets the clamoring thoughts in my mind. It makes me feel human again – a little less deficient than I felt, just a few minutes before. All I know is the feel of the warm water bathing my fingers, palms, the backs of my hands, in its warm embrace. Its warm, nonjudgmental, soothing embrace.
Then I remember where I am and what I need to be doing, instead of trancing out with the running water, and I turn off the spigot and dry my hands on the hand towel to my right.
As comforting as the warm water was, having wet hands afterwards agitates me. I dry them thoroughly, almost furiously. I cannot tolerate the feel of dampness on my palms and wrists, which are extraordinarily sensitive – especially when I’m stressed, like now. I tend to be very tactile and I depend on my sense of touch to orient me – especially when I’m off-balance, like this morning. I use touch to keep steady and move smoothly through the day. It’s usually subtle and not very noticeable by others, but it’s vital to me. I soothe myself with the feel of my hands and fingers rubbing themselves… fabric… rough tissues… spongy objects. I occasionally run my hands over things when I’m nervous or upset or in unfamiliar surroundings. I’ve gotten strange looks from people, when I’ve done that, but it’s what I need to do, to get a clear sense of where my body is in the world. If I cannot feel things around me, I become anxious and upset, and if I cannot handle objects I’m working with and feel them very well, I get disoriented and anxious.
The backs of my hands, my wrists, and the tops of my forearms are also hypersensitive to the “wrong” stimuli, like scratchy fabrics or slippery objects. Rough seams rubbing against my arms, the light touches of physically demonstrative people when they are talking to me, even the cuffs of harmless linen shirt sleeves touching my wrists… they all drive me to distraction. I almost always need to push up long sleeves around my elbows; I cannot stand them otherwise.
Now the dampness is distracting me again. It pulls my attention away from keeping my balance, making me nauseous and irritable. I push the sleeves of my sweatshirt farther up my arms and keep drying my hands, working my way across the hand towel in search of absorbent fabric. The towel is scratchy but dry, and I make sure I have every last bit of moisture off my hands before I brush my teeth. I have to be able to hold the toothbrush. And I can’t do that with wet hands.
I really have to work at brushing my teeth, this morning. The water splashing on my skin and coordination of my toothbrush motions distracts me from keeping my balance. I have to steady myself on the edge of the sink counter, my free hand firmly planted on the cool, level vanity surface, holding part of my sensory attention. Counting the brush strokes – 1, 2, 3, 4 – and systematically alternating brushing motions – up-down-up-down, front-back-front-back, switch sides, up-down-up-down, front-back-front-back – I’m able to immerse myself in the action and focus on the feel of the bristles moving sudsy toothpaste across my teeth.
When I was a kid, brushing my teeth was such a challenge. The loudness of the scrubbing would echo thunderously in my sensitive ears and all but deafen me. I couldn’t explain my difficulty; it didn’t make any sense to me, yet. At the same time, the rhythmic motion, the counting, and the feel of clean teeth afterwards made the experience worth it. And over the years, I’ve actually found brushing my teeth to be very soothing; if I’m nervous, I’ll brush. And that means I do it a lot – which also means my teeth are in much better shape than my dentist ever expects them to be. Every time I go back for a cleaning, they remark at how little plaque buildup there is, and what a good job I’m doing. I even avoided the dentist for several years (I couldn’t afford to pay, and my insurance didn’t cover it), but when I sat back down in the chair, they couldn’t believe what good shape my teeth were in. It seemed to irritate them a bit, as though I was proving I didn’t need them so much, after all.
This morning, brushing my teeth is more of a challenge than usual, not only because of my balance, but because my ears are also extremely sensitive. At first, I try to ignore it, but there’s no escaping the sound. The thunder of the bristles scraping across my teeth is deafening. I want to stop, just stop it, and go get my cup of coffee. But I have to do this daily ritual; that’s non-negotiable. I want to keep my teeth healthy. I want to keep my teeth in my head. So, I just buckle down, concentrate on counting strokes… the taste and feel of the toothpaste foaming in my mouth… the smoothness of my clean teeth… and the feel of the cool countertop under my free hand. It’s not much fun, but I deal with it.
When I’m finally finished, I run my tongue over my teeth to make sure they feel clean. I generally floss in the evenings (as well as during the course of the day, as needed), so I don’t need to concern myself with flossing, first thing in the morning. And a good thing, too. I’m so off-balance, the very thought of pulling floss from the container, wrapping it around my fingers and working my way across, between, around all my teeth makes me a little sick to my stomach. As I recall, I really did a thorough job of flossing last night, and my attention to detail yesterday pays off today – I don’t need to do it this morning. And that helps take the edge off my mounting agitation. As I rinse and spit for the last time and splash the toothpaste from the edges of the sink, I feel a little more centered.
But something is wrong. I realize that my hands and wrists are wet again, and a sudden rush of irritation shoots through me. Augh! I reach for the hand towel and try to dry off, but it’s damp from when I washed up before. Agitation and frustration courses through me, again, and I pat the towel, looking for a dry spot. But I was so thorough before, I used up all the dry areas of the hand towel.
I need to get my skin completely dry. Wet hands don’t let me feel the space around me. My grip is slippery. The water wrinkles in my skin make it difficult to feel things. I can’t feel my way around the room in this state. I have to get them dry. I have to. Now.
Turning slightly, I find my bath towel hanging nearby, and I rub furiously at my hands and wrists, anxious to get them dry. I’m irritated that I’m using my bath towel for a hand towel. That’s not the right way to do things. It’s not what a bath towel is for. Plus, my bath towel will be damp when I use it later. The very anticipation of the experience irritates me.
But I have to get my hands dry.
Already this day testing me, and I haven’t even made it off the second floor.
I desperately need some coffee.
… to be continued … watch this space for more…