Terry ran up the hill as fast as his legs would carry him. When he reached the top, he turned around to see his best friend Benjamin still standing at the bottom.
“Come on, Ben!” he called. “Stop being such a worrywart! My baby sister is braver than you and all she does is eat mashed peas!”
Benjamin puffed up his chest in indignation. “She is not!” he shouted back.
“Prove it, then. Come up the hill so that we can go over to old man Reynolds’ house before we have to go back to my house so my mom doesn’t know we didn’t go there right after school!”
Benjamin bit his lip. He wanted to prove to Terry that he was braver than a six month old baby girl, but at the same time he really didn’t want to go anywhere near old man Reynolds’ house. They’d been hearing stories about how crazy old man Reynolds’ was for as long as he could remember. Some were complete nonsense, of course, like the one about him having buried a bunch of kids in his front yard, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t scary.
Summoning his courage, Benjamin strode up the hill to join Terry. With a grin, Terry continued towards old man Reynolds’ house while Benjamin ran to catch up despite all of his fears. He didn’t want to do anything that would make Terry call him a worrywart again.
“What does ‘worrywart’ mean, anyway?” he asked as they turned the corner onto old man Reynolds’ street. “I’ve never heard anyone use that word before.”
Terry shrugged. “I dunno exactly. Some old lady used it at Church on Sunday. She said it had something to do with people who are scared of everything. I thought it sounded cool, like some kind of really horrible disease.”
“Benjamin William Snyder!” a woman’s voice called through the door. “Get your ass out of bed this instant! I have to leave for work in half an hour and if you aren’t ready for school in ten minutes, you’re going to have to walk!”
Benjamin silently rolled over onto his back and stared up at his ceiling. Was it really time for school already? It seemed like he’d only fallen asleep five minutes before only to be woken up again. Then again, most days it felt like that. All night long he would be up, thoughts of an empty future filling his mind. Benjamin had barely gone to school that entire year, only managing to go in for the first three days, yet his mother still insisted on putting on this charade that he was a ‘normal’ teenage boy who went to school, went out on dates and partied with friends until they were too drunk to see straight.
But Benjamin was far from what most people considered ‘normal’ for a person of any age. It had only been a year and a half since he had been diagnosed with severe anxiety, a year and a half of trying out new medications whenever his psychiatrist decided his current medications weren’t working, but already it felt like an eternity.
He continued to stare at the ceiling, not even noticing when his mother called another five times for him to get up and once more to tell him she was leaving without him. Instead, all he could think about was how many things he was missing out on. Not just going to school or going out with girls or doing incredibly stupid things with his friends, none of whom he’d seen since he stopped going to school. What he was thinking about was the future. In his current state, he would never be able to drive a car, get his license, meet a girl to settle down and start a family with, or even graduate high school. He was stuck, with no way out.
‘What if I never get better?’ he thought, ‘What if I’m like this for the rest of my life? How will I survive? What will happen to me when my parents die? Who will take care of me then? Will I just die from hunger one day without anyone even knowing because they hardly ever see me come out of the house? Will my body start to decompose in my bed before someone comes to check on the house because they smell something rotting? What’s going to happen to me?’
He rolled over onto his stomach and closed his eyes as tightly as he could. Try as he might to stop them, the thoughts just kept on coming. ‘Why me? Why am I the one who can’t do the things that are expected of me? Why am I the one stuck in my house because I’m too scared that something will happen to me if I step even a toe outside? What did I do for this to happen to me? I’m seventeen years old and I can’t even go to my psychiatrist appointments without my dad practically dragging me out of the house and forcing me into the car!’
“Benjamin,” his father puffed, “you have to go. That is an order! You want to get better, don’t you?”
“Be careful with him, Matthew!” his mother called tearfully. “You’re going to hurt him. If he doesn’t want to go, just let him stay home!”
His father didn’t listen to her. “Not now, Amanda!” he shouted as he pushed Benjamin into the back passenger seat. “Benjamin has to do this for his own good. Or do you want him to stay at home and live with us forever?”
His mother was silent, but Benjamin knew that she was crying. She always did.
Benjamin sighed at the memory and pulled his pillow over his head as he tried to push the thoughts out of his head. It was no good.
‘It’s my fault,’ he thought. ‘All of it’s my fault. I’m the reason they’re always fighting. If they get a divorce, it’ll all be because of me. And then what will happen? What will I do? Who will I live with? My mom? She’ll never let me go to the psychiatrist. Partially because she’ll never be able to get me out of the house but mostly because she’ll just say there’s nothing wrong with me and that I’m just going through some weird teenage phase and one day I’ll just snap out of it. But what if I go live with my dad? He’ll never let me be. He’ll just tell me to push through it. But what if what he’s forcing me to push through isn’t just another panic attack? What if there’s something seriously wrong with me one day and he doesn’t believe me? What if he pushes me so far that I die? What then? What will happen to my mom when she finds out that even after all those times she tried to warn my dad he didn’t listen? That he didn’t even care?’
His heart was pounding now, and Benjamin knew what was coming next. He flipped onto his side, his eyes shut tight, as he tried the breathing technique his psychiatrist had taught him during one of his very first sessions. Breathe in, slowly count to four. Hold it, quickly count to ten. Let it out, slowly count to six. He let out the breath of air and could feel himself shaking.
‘I have to get up, I have to get out of here. I have to move. I have to walk. I have to go somewhere, do something.’ Benjamin’s leg was bouncing up and down as he quickly sat up before jumping out of bed. Now standing a few feet away from his bed, Benjamin found he couldn’t move. Looking at the floor in front of him, he could almost feel it swimming before his eyes. ‘Oh god, I can’t move. If I move I’m going to fall. I’ll hit my head and black out and I’m all alone. No one will know. There’s no one here to help me.’
Somehow, Benjamin found the strength inside him to run to the bathroom. He wasn’t sure how he managed it. Maybe it was because he knew he had to do something or maybe it was because he felt like he was going to throw up and he knew how much his mother would want to kill him if he puked on the floor and not in the toilet.
His head over the toilet, vomit spewing from his mouth as his heart continued to pound in his chest, Benjamin could hear his best friend’s Terry’s voice in his head from all those years ago. ‘Worrywart. You’re such a worrywart. My baby sister’s braver than you! Worrywart! Worrywart! Worrywart!’
Minutes later, he sat back on his heels and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. Drained, he leaned forward again and held onto the toilet as though it was the only thing keeping him from losing all of his strength and falling to the floor.
“I’ll never get better, I’m never going to be able to do anything with my life,” he whispered, his voice hoarse, to the empty bathroom and rested his forehead against the cool porcelain of the toilet.
© March 2011
Archived at: Raising Disability Awareness