Abby the Manic Buffalo

After another episode of panic, my husband comforts me as we sit on Jack’s Ninja Turtle bed.

“We all have our weaknesses,” he tells me. “I can’t see three feet in front of me without my glasses. If we were in the wild, we’d be dead already. The herd would have left us behind.”

I scowled. “I’d like to think my hypervigilance would be an asset to any herd.”

“Maybe if you’re a meerkat or something,” my husband conceded. “But not if you were, like, a buffalo. It’d be like, ‘Hey guys, what’s going on?’” At this point he earnestly endeavored to act the part of a hypervigilant buffalo, and I’ve gotta hand it to him: he nailed it. I started giggling.

“The herd would hate you,” he continued. “They’d be like, ‘Would some Indian come along and PLEASE use every part of this buffalo?’”

I giggled harder.

“Abby the Manic Buffalo is not a good thing,” he said.

“However,” I pointed out through my giggles, “an excellent title for a children’s book.”

I have an amazingly supportive husband. And funny. And hot. I try not to acknowledge these realities too often, lest his ego assume intolerable proportions.

But I don’t love him.

At least, that’s what the thoughts and pictures and voices say.

When I was a teenager, my obsessive thoughts were usually about my getting sick (almost always from a brain tumor), or about my parents or boyfriend dying (almost always in a sudden car accident). My earliest memory of these thoughts happened around 11 or 12 years old, when my parents were a few miles down the road at the local mall, and I was struck with terror that they’d never come back. Since then, the physical and emotional experience of panic has run its course the same way every time, through well-worn neural pathways.

As I got older, the obsessions became almost exclusively relationship-oriented. Yeah, sometimes I still worry I’m dying from a brain tumor or leukemia or a cinnamon overdose or some undetectable ricin that a bakery terrorist slipped into a package of muffins at Safeway. But for the most part, my brain tells me the worst possible messages about my marriage, the foundation of my adult life.

Sometimes when I’m quiet, the letters rise like balloons: L. I. A. R. You are a liar, a fake, a fraud. Sometimes the words are already there in my mind when I open my eyes: You don’t love him. Most recently, the words were auditory, screaming in my ears when he was talking: I hate you. And once: He could die in this surgery and you wouldn’t even care.

These obsessions aren’t new. I’ve had them in pretty much every romantic relationship. The words You don’t love him appeared behind my eyes first with Gills-and-Fins, and they kicked off a 3-month-long episode of anxiety in which I destroyed my relationship and nearly destroyed myself. I was in perpetual fight-or-flight. Couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t rest. The only thing I could do was work, and try to trust that the pain would end. I’m not saying that I didn’t make the right decision in ending that relationship. But the decision to end it should have come from an entirely different place, not that place where upsetting words and images were driving my behavior. Obsessions—even the most ridiculous ones—seem utterly real to the person experiencing them. For a while, even into my relationship with my husband, I believed that the presence of anxiety signaled some truth breaking through to the surface, some deep desire begging to be heeded. But then the anxiety came back during my engagement to my husband, and I was forced to accept that maybe those obsessive thoughts and messages weren’t truth.

Maybe they were sickness.

Either possibility is terrifying. If the obsessions are true, then I have to conclude that I’m not capable of being in any relationship for more than a few years, not capable of feeling truly connected to another human being. There will always be doubts, barriers. I’ll have to be alone.

If the obsessions aren’t true, then I am really fucking messed up. Maybe this is the week or month or year that the medication stops working, and I’ll break down. I’ll have to be institutionalized.

Either way, the pain might never end.

In actuality, I think, the “truth” more elusive. Of course those obsessions are “true,” just the way mythology is “true.” The obsessions are not literally and factually true, but there’s truth in them. We all have dark thoughts. We all get visited by the imp of the perverse, and feel the natural human desire to think and behave precisely contrary to how we should think and behave. Do I feel angry at my husband sometimes? Sure. Do I sometimes wish I could escape the responsibilities of my domestic life and enter a chamber of blissful solitude? Of course. And we all feel those things. Most people can accept them and shrug them off. I can’t. That’s the way I’m made. And I don’t know why these are my obsessions, why it’s not the hand-washing demons or the postpartum-I’m-gonna-hurt-my-baby demons, which, although they seem irrational to me, are just as torturous for the people who experience them as my obsessions are for me.

I know I love my husband. I know I made the right decision in marrying him, and I know I’m not going to freak out and leave. But in my moments of panic, I’m immersed in a completely different, isolating and terrifying reality. I, the ever-vigilant animal, have been swallowed, and I can’t see anything outside the belly of the beast.

I'm the one in the middle, watching for predators while those two dicksticks on either side of me are just munching away, oblivious. The moral of Abby the Manic Buffalo is to always be alert. I think this character is really gonna take off. This holiday season,  Abby the Manic Buffalo will warm your heart. EXPERIENCE THE MAGIC, MOTHERFUCKERS. (morguefile.com)
I’m the one in the middle, watching for predators while those two dicksticks on either side of me are just munching away, oblivious. The moral of Abby the Manic Buffalo is to always be alert. I think this character is really gonna take off. This holiday season, Abby the Manic Buffalo will warm your heart. EXPERIENCE THE MAGIC, MOTHERFUCKERS. (morguefile.com)

2 thoughts on “Abby the Manic Buffalo

  1. You had me at “‘Would some Indian come along and PLEASE use every part of this buffalo?'” But then you mentioned the Imp of the Perverse, and I’m not gonna lie, now I kind of want to date you. Perhaps an inappropriate response. But there you have it. You have an amazing way of blending poignancy seamlessly into your comedy. This is honest and fantastic. PS: Coffee sometime? No pressure.

  2. Dear Abby (but not THAT one),

    I have been following your blog since you wrote about my red-headed presidential expert kids, Rainer and Atticus, when they were on The Ellen Show back in 2012. Thanks for that. ☺ They are super cool kids, I think, though I am biased.

    I generally don’t have time to read anything other than my stacks of written assignments (I’m an English teacher), other people’s manuscripts (I do copyediting/blurb-writing), my own work (I’m an author), my wife’s work (she’s an author), or my kids’ homework, but I do read yours. Your 9/11 reflection from a teacher’s perspective really hit home, but it was this 12/1 entry that compelled me to write to you.

    I have never seen someone else so precisely and clearly articulate the kind of panic-ridden depressive episodes I have experienced in the past. At one point, I had spent over a decade and a half scouring all the manuals and guidebooks and workbooks and therapy couches I could to find a quick and easy description of what kept happening to me, but you hit it on the head in this entry so beautifully. I kept reading your words and saying “Yes. Yes. Yes!”

    I, too, have an incredible marriage. My wife and I have been together 11 years and routinely are the go-to couple for marriage advice, marriage retreats, relationship role-modeling, etc… We can’t wait for every day together and people find us either infinitely inspiring or sickening. But this reward came after a long line of self-sabotaging landmines, battles and sinkholes I barely escaped.

    The progression you described captured what happened in all of my early relationships. 2-3 months in and some trigger would go off, some switch flipped, and a flood of Tourette’s-like self-talk would commandeer my brain, drive love away, invite fear and numbness in, and, before I knew it, the relationship was over. These breakups would be accompanied and followed by depression, dissociation and crippling anxiety. Not being able to trust or believe the narrative of YOUR OWN mind is, as you said, maddening. Only sleep or suicidal thoughts seemed to shut the damn thing up (I never tried medication).

    After five or so relationships were sabotaged by some part of me that seemed dead set against letting me be happy, and lots of therapy and reflection, I started to figure things out. I came to understand that these breakups had little to do with the specific people I was with (you’re right, I shouldn’t have ended up with them anyway, but couldn’t sort myself from them at the time). I realized that I was sabotaging things and that this all had to do with coping mechanisms from my childhood. I thought I was fixed!

    In 2003, I met and started dating my wife. The monster lay dormant from June to November. Then, RIGHT before I was about to propose, it struck again. I spent 3 months in dissociative depression. As before, I felt confused, alienated, hijacked my my own mind. I resigned myself to being alone forever. The great gift, of course, was that she stuck it out. (She’s a therapist and wildly brilliant and determined—thank God!). I pulled through and the rest is history.

    But here goes my take on what this thing is, and I feel compelled to speak about it with you because I felt like I was reading about myself while reading your blog, except for the husband parts, as my wife is a woman).

    Your blog is called “Little Miss Perfect”. Well, I was little mister perfect. I felt I had to be. I grew up in a toxic home of fighting and verbal warfare between my sick father (he died when I was 15) and angry older brother. I subconsciously decided VERY early on to take care of myself and not have any needs. Smart, right? If I have no needs, I won’t take up any space, require any attention, or add to the chaos. I loved my mom but she was taking care of my father, running the house and working multiple jobs to keep us afloat. So I became my own hero, my own fan, my own entity in the world, devoting myself to art, love, beauty and positivity at all costs. If I could be perfect and wonderful and radiant all would be fine.

    WARNING: incredible defense mechanisms save you, then break you.

    The amazing person I built myself into had one major flaw: I was alone, even when wildly social. After all, it’s hard to be perfect if someone REALLY gets to know you. But part of being a radiant and absurd messiah-like person is falling in love with people. So I did. And it would be wonderful until it got messy, because intimacy is messy business. And then all the oxytocin of connection turned into adrenaline-fueled flight as I’d run for my life. Cue the “I hate this person, get away from me” self-talk and dissociation and panic-attacks. Game over.

    Who knew I had a Halliburton-approved defense mechanism from boyhood that kept going rogue? It suited and saved me when I was younger, gave me the opportunity to flourish regardless of loss, dysfunction and cruelty, but I didn’t know it was running the show. It would go off when someone got too close, when someone threatened my delicate and faulty equilibrium. The vitriol in my head and heart would attack my noblest feelings and most cherished moments like white blood cells to a virus, and I’d disappear, leaving assassins to take rub out all happy feelings, expunge them like invading Mongols.

    And I’d be alone again, safe and stuck.

    Now that I’m on the other side of all of this tawdry business (though I know it is there waiting on the other side of my psyche like an addiction I’ve been clean and sober from for 10 years), I see that the obsessive self-talk and Tourette’s-like falsities that you know you can’t say out loud because they are the worst thoughts in the world were involuntary—the beams of a hyper-vigilant lighthouse of self-protection. A sentry I have since fired and sent to Siberia.

    I don’t talk about this part of my life much because it’s complicated and sounds, to most people, like horseshit. So thank you—for your honesty and your vulnerability and your story and your humor.

    Here’s to surviving and thriving. ☺

    Best,
    Matt

Comments are closed.