It was in a restaurant, Cartons, when it happened, when I ceased to think like normal people do. Well, at least like normal Christians do. (I guess if you have no hope in heaven, you might not have fear of eternity.)
I was eating mozzarella sticks. Every time we went to Cartons I had the mozzarella sticks. There’s something about fried cheese that soothes the soul. So I’m eating mozzarella sticks, planning my wedding, and I’m excited because the semester is almost over. Four days until my last class is over, finals next week, home the week after and then married six weeks later. My life was very happy. I was very happy.
And then it happened. It was like the earth stopped rotating (however fast it rotates) and we are all thrown off the earth because gravity doesn’t hold us anymore. It was as if a computer crashed right before I finished a paper and I had no idea why it happened. It was as if I suddenly woke up from a dream and I didn’t remember what I was just dreaming about or why I woke up. God just dropped me out of His hand.
And I was left to fend for myself. I looked at Matt — the person who was to make me secure — and all of the sudden I couldn’t breathe anymore. Eternity was here and it was now and I was floating in it and I couldn’t get out. He was talking about his job and I felt like I had just died and he couldn’t see me anymore. I looked out the window and it scared me to death. All of the sudden the sky was too heavy and I thought eternity would swallow me whole.
You know when you were 7 and your Sunday school teacher first tells you about eternity? You try to think about it and you can’t comprehend it and it kinda freaks you out? When I was younger I would try to go to sleep at night and I would think about heaven. Then I would think about eternity. Forever. Forever. Forever. Forever…
I would climb in bed with my mom, “I’m scared.” She would hold me, “I used to be scared to.”
What do you mean?
We have to leave now.
We have to leave now.
So he half carried me, half dragged me back to school. I couldn’t stand to be outside. The sky was blue and it faded off into heaven. Eternity. Forever. Forever. Forever…
I felt like I was alone. Like I was the only person living in reality and everyone else was living in this dream world and if they knew what reality was really like they would all kill themselves. Except I wouldn’t kill myself. If I died then I would be closer to heaven. Eternity. Forever. And that’s what I was afraid of. Dying would only make it worse. In my room I felt safe. Closed in. My closet of a room with one window with the shades suddenly closed and the lights turned off.
My mind couldn’t keep up with my thoughts. I called my mom.
Please call me when you get this. This is an emergency.
I climbed into bed and prayed and prayed and prayed. But He was gone. He dropped me in the middle of eternity. He stopped the earth and threw me completely off it. Matt called.
I can’t talk. I don’t trust you.
What are you talking about.
I can’t trust anyone.
I love you. Of course you can trust me.
No one will understand.
Please talk to me.
And this is how I lost my mind. The only thing that would give my mom comfort was when she told her shrink she thought she was going crazy and he said, “If you think you’re going crazy then you’re probably not.” But I really did go crazy. No one had ever felt what I was feeling. No one would ever understand what it’s like to completely break from reality. No one could ever know what it’s like when God completely abandons you. My mom called.
Can you come get me?
Karen, the semester is almost over. Just two more weeks.
I can’t stay here. Please come get me.
How much money do you have?
I don’t have any.
Have Matt buy a train ticket to Kansas City.
I can’t make it to Kansas City.
Then take it to St. Louis and I’ll pick you up there.
I can’t leave until Friday.
Can you make it until Friday?
I have to.
So it was decided. I went to classes in a daze, shaking and crying and really freaking out my friends. “Please just pray for me,” though what good would that do? Friday afternoon I hopped on Amtrak with my stuffed Tigger in my hand and listened to my CD player, hoping to drown out the noise of nothingness. I tried not to think about reality. I tried not to think about heaven. Being inside the train I was protected, but I could still see the sky. Heaven. Eternity. Forever…
A little girl was riding with her mother while I was talking myself into thinking I was OK. I looked at her and felt so jealous of her little happy world.
God please trick me again. Just hypnotize me, make me think the way I used to.
But He wasn’t there anymore. It was just me and the stranger in the seat next to me and the girl running up and down the aisles. And the sky.
The Amtrak station in St. Louis is a shack. It’s not even a station. It’s a one room aluminum-based garage in the armpit of the universe. It was Tigger and me, all alone in this universe. But my mom was there. With pills. I love pills. Chalk white pieces of candy that keep you from thinking for awhile. I freaked her out so bad she made an emergency appointment with her shrink, told him of my “symptoms” and got me some pills!
But they didn’t work on me. We were driving to my aunts’ place and it was dark and I couldn’t see the sky but I knew it was out there, waiting for me to stop looking long enough so it could swallow me up into oblivion. At 8 the next morning we left for Kansas City for a 36-hour whirlwind tour before I had to take finals.
We can get a doctor’s note to excuse you from finals.
I can’t do that.
Because then I’ll be worrying about it all summer and then next semester I’ll have to do a five-week extension thing and I won’t remember any of the classes and I’ll have new classes to worry about.
Can you make it through?
I just have to take them. I will not fail.
Monday morning I was back in Chicago taking my finals. Poor Matt. He has this perfect family: no skeletons in the closet, no nasty divorces and illegitimate children, no mental disorders. He had no idea what was going on. And I couldn’t even tell him if I trusted him enough to. Every moment I spent outside was spent in dread. Dread surrounded me every minute of every hour, awake and asleep. I was filled with dread and fear and anxiety. I told Matt I loved him, but I didn’t believe that anymore because I was living in reality and he wasn’t, therefore our relationship didn’t exist.
You’re not real to me anymore.
Yes I am. You can touch me and feel me and hear me.
You’re not real to me anymore.
Please don’t be afraid.
You’re not real. This couch isn’t real. This school isn’t real. God isn’t real… I’m so sorry.
What are you sorry for?
That I’m a lunatic and you’ll always regret not having married me.
I still want to marry you.
I’m so sorry.
I found myself sitting in this really nice office. A University of Kansas diploma was on the wall. His name is Dr. Wilcox. He asked me what was wrong. I told him that I lost my mind, that I was living in eternity, that dread was suffocating me and I was immobilized by fear. Long list. He said his famous line, “If you think you’re losing your mind then you’re probably not.” Little did he know.
Do you know what seratonin is?
It’s a chemical in your brain. You have a chemical imbalance.
You mean I’m a drug addict? I don’t take drugs.
No, a chemical imbalance in your head. Your brain is over-producing seratonin. It’s causing your mind and thinking capabilities to speed up and the rest of your brain can’t comprehend what’s going on. All this stress building up has been giving you panic attacks and the seratonin isn’t making it any better.
It’s not a chemical imbalance. This is really happening and your being fooled. You’re not real.
Karen, I’m real.
Are you a Christian?
Then you wouldn’t understand.
That I’m living in eternity. That God has thrown me from His hand and abandoned me and somehow I’m the only one living in this alternate reality and no one else realizes it.
Karen, this is a chemical imbalance.
I’m sweating on the leather sofa. I’m digging my nails into my palms. I can’t keep up with what I’m thinking. I don’t know which way is up and which was is down.
He gave me some more drugs, free samples. They couldn’t go on my insurance because I was under my dad’s insurance and if my dad saw that I was seeing a shrink then he would see that I was weak. He would see that I was weak, just like my mom and he loves me more than my sister because I don’t remind him of my mom. And my mom has no money. So he gave me free samples of wonderful drugs with exotic names like Xanex, and Lorazipam, and Seroquel, and Prozac. And he ordered me to pop them like candy, which I did.
Two Prozac in the morning. Xanex every 3-hours. Lorazipam when needed. Two Prozac in the evening. Two Seroquel at night. I was a busy girl.
Isn’t it funny how the weirdest places offer us the most comfort? The only place I felt safe and free from the sky was Target. Surrounded by discount clothes in a warehouse without windows, there would actually be times when I could handle the weight of eternity on my shoulders without intense panic filling my soul. Matt came every weekend, like clockwork, and we would go to Target.
Don’t unbelievers ever get scared about death? Do they think they just end? Alive and then nothing? The end of existence?
Matt would watch me out of the corner of his eye.
I don’t know.
I would pretend not to feel his stare.
The only thing that kept me sane was keeping busy, and the only thing that kept me busy was planning our wedding. The weeks counted down and I kept thinking:
How can I get married when I’m like this?
Why do you want to marry him?
Because I love him.
Until now what has been your biggest fear?
Are you asking as my psychiatrist or are you just interested?
As a psychiatrist who is trying to help you.
That something would happen and I wouldn’t marry Matt. Have you heard of the rapture?
I’m afraid the rapture will happen before I marry Matt, and even though in heaven I’ll be happy, I’m not happy now because I want more than anything to marry Matt and live a long normal life. And if the rapture does happen, I’m afraid God will leave me here all alone.
Do you have a phobia of eternity?
Does it sound like I have a phobia of eternity?
It’s not good for a Christian to be afraid of eternity. We’re supposed to be looking forward to it.
Karen, you will marry Matt
How can a Christian be afraid of eternity? Maybe I’m not a Christian…
My roommate once told me I was too emotional and unstable to get married (this was before my breakdown) and I remember thinking: this coming from a bulimic in love with my fiancé’s roommate. I used to think her claims of depression were just cheap ways to get attention. But this was not the attention I was looking for. Why would anyone want to see that doubtful look in someone’s eye: not sure what to talk about, afraid to hit a nerve, wondering if I’m crazy?
I went to Dr. Wilcox everyday at 10, like clockwork. The worst part about it was driving there, because it was June and the sky was always blue. Heaven. Eternity. Forever… Then I went to work at my mom’s office because I needed something else to do besides plan my wedding (just in case the rapture happened). And then it was upon me, this wedding I had been waiting and planning for, that had precipitated my descent into madness. I thought:
OK, God, you’ve got 48 hours to come back.
But He didn’t. And I got married. And the attacks stopped. And God slowly crept into view.
This morning I woke up with a nasty feeling in the pit of my stomach, wondering what I had just been dreaming about. I rolled over anxiously and reached my hand across the bed to feel for Matt. But he was gone. My stomach turned inside out and I could feel the pain and panic fill my chest and rise into my throat.
Please God, no, not yet! Please don’t leave me here by myself! Don’t leave me all alone!
Then Matt came in to kiss me goodbye as he left for work. And I remembered why I’ve never been back to Carton’s.