“In 1979, I needed to learn more than biology or chemistry or how to deconstruct literature. I needed to learn how to navigate my life as an adult with a sensory modulation and sensory motor disorder.” – Lane
“Can you take me to a doctor?” I said into the brown plastic hand piece of my princess phone. “I’m losing my mind.”
I set the receiver into the base as gently as I could. If I wasn’t careful the ringer made a startled sound, like I had hurt it.
I sat on the sofa too weak and demoralized to do anything but run my eyes over the mess around me. Text books, spiral notebooks and papers crowded the Electrolux typewriter on the coffee table. More books and the packaging from last week’s emergency trip to the office supply store covered the arm chair and end table.
Several days worth of greasy wax wrappers from Wendy’s singles-with-cheese were crumpled on the two person dinette table. A twisted paper bag lay like a corpse atop a small mountain of trash that had overflowed from the can in the corner.
It felt as though whatever vital force I had poured into that last paper was all there was. It took all the energy I could scrounge now, to drag myself to work each morning. By the time I got home, just a little after noon, all I could do was sit and stare.
I wished I could get up and at least shut the door to the bedroom. Shoes and dirty clothes were scattered across the gold shag carpet like wreckage spilled from a plane that had crashed onto the unmade bed.
But worst of all, the little L of countertop between the refrigerator and the table was piled with every dirty dish I owned.
I moaned and put my hands over my eyes.
My friend Monica took me to the emergency health clinic on the campus. After a short wait I sat in front of a dried twig of a woman who asked, “Do you mind if I smoke?”
I did. I’d been on the wagon for three months. But I said no because that’s what she wanted me to say and it was easier than pressing for my own needs. Besides, she was the perfect vision of why I didn’t want to smoke.
“I’m so tired,” I said, “but I can’t sleep.”
She asked open ended questions and I pulled words out of the fog and strung them together as best I could. As she got a feel for my basic complaint she kicked off her shoes and tucked her feet up in the padded chair, one skinny arm around her knees.
“So midterms are over.” She blew smoke toward the outtake vent high on the wall of the little office. “It’s five weeks until finals.”
“What do you do for fun?”
“I don’t know.” I had to think about it. Between work and school, I didn’t have a lot of down time. “I play my guitar. I draw.”
“That’s what I want you to do for a few days. Just take some time off from everything and have some fun.”
“I can’t,” I said.
“My apartment’s a disaster.”
“That’s alright. You’re a college student. You’re not supposed to have a clean apartment.”
“No, I am.”
“Nobody ever died from a messy apartment.” She gave a toady chuckle that broke into a cough.
She didn’t understand. I couldn’t do anything in there with a mess like that. It would be like trying to draw or play the guitar in the middle of a shit storm.
The health clinic wanted $35 that I didn’t have. They said they’d bill me.
“Call your Mom.” Monica suggested on the drive home. “She’ll give you the money.”
No fucking way. Thirty-five dollars would buy Janie a sticky tentacle of control into my fledgling independence.
It was dark now. I was back on my couch calculating how many months it would take to pay $35 out of the $9 of discretionary cash I had left every month after school bills, rent, gas and groceries.
Knocking to the beat of “Shave and a Hair Cut” rapped through my kitchen wall.
It was my next door neighbor. The friendly ritual meant “I’m home, are you?”
Training as a “nice person” made me react involuntarily. What I couldn’t muster was the energy to act of my own volition.
I dragged my sorry ass to the kitchen wall and knocked back, “Two Bits.”
Just as I was about to fall back onto my couch, he was banging on my front door.
“The Sound of Music is on Channel 13 in five minutes.”
“I have to clean my apartment.”
He looked around and winced. He was in the army. He had a rake in his linen closet to smooth the lines in the carpet after he vacuumed.
“You can do it during the commercials.” He grabbed my hand and pulled me out the door.
Right after Maria got booted out of the convent. Carlos gave me a shove. “Move it! Move it! Move it!” He sounded like Sergeant Carter on Gomer Pyle.
I had to laugh as I jumped off the couch. I ran out his front door, through his courtyard, across three steps of walkway, into my courtyard, through my front door and to the sink.
I poured soap on a sponge and scrubbed dishes under a stream of hot water as fast as I could. The drainer was three quarters full of clean plates and glasses by the time Carlos’s knock on the wall signaled the end of the commercial break.
I skidded to a stop at his couch just as Maria arrived at the von Trapp villa.
By the end of Act 1, the kitchen was clean, trash bagged and table wiped. I spent the commercial breaks in Act 2 sorting the laundry and straightening up my living room.
When the movie was over, all my stuff was in its place, the apartment transformed back into my sanctuary. And my depression had been replaced with a giddy happiness that kept me moving for an hour after the movie – changing the sheets on my bed and scrubbing the bathroom – while I yodeled a continuous loop of the chorus of “Lonely Goatherd.”
It may have been the most important lesson I learned in college the year of 1979. Because, more than I needed to learn biology or chemistry or how to deconstruct literature, I needed to learn how to navigate my life as an adult with a sensory modulation and sensory motor disorder.
So…here are the main points, bulleted for our visual and organizational pleasure:
- Don’t pay anybody to tell you that visual clutter doesn’t have the power to cause you anxiety.
- When you are depressed? Move it! Move it! Move it!
- No task is too big or too miserable if you break it into three minute pieces.
- Happy music is therapeutic.
- Simple pleasures with a sane friend are sometimes more valuable (and always less expensive) than professional help.