There will come a day when you slip, when, despite your best efforts, the alligators in your head will break through. It’s nothing momentous, you just tell yourself that “I deserve a treat” or “I’m too tired to go to school today.” It’s a tiny thing, insignificant at the time. But when retrospect kicks in, you’ll be able to look back and say, “That was Moment Zero.”
The descent into hell is easy. You slip underwater and start losing days. Don’t worry, you will surface occasionally, just enough to notice that two weeks have passed since you’ve last gone to class. You have 37 unchecked voicemails and 1100 unread emails. This registers as a problem somewhere deep inside, but not enough. You go back under.
Days are spent on autopilot. Breathing is required, so you breathe. Drinking is required, so you drink. Work is required to keep the lights on and the heat churning, so you go to work. This is enough to drain every last ounce of life out of your body. Sleep, devoid of dreams, overwhelms you. Eight hours is not enough. Ten? Twelve? Sixteen? It is easy to sleep the hours of your life away. You wake up and yawn, just as tired as when you started.
One of the allied voices in your head tells you that food provides energy. So you eat. There is no energy for cooking, so your body takes the route of least resistance. The pizza man does not care what you look like, and your plastic is good as gold. You eat and eat, but the energy never comes. Your stomach distends; the pain of over-fullness is one of the few sensations that breaks through. You swear never again, and yet — the body has to eat. So it happens again.
And then you are drowning in trash and dishes, from those few bright moments when you surface long enough to throw spaghetti on the stove. You are not bothered by the precarious stacks; you will deal with them soon. Soon passes, yet you are not worried. Soon, soon enough. It seems like a simple enough thing, throwing out trash and washing dishes, and you chide yourself for that. You loathe yourself for being lazy. And yet the stacks remain.
If somebody loves you, maybe they’ll see the signs. Maybe they’ll understand that the monster has come back, and you are unavailable right now. But when you are surrounded by those who do not understand, they will hate you, they will chide you. There is a fine line between lazy and broken. You know which side you are on, but they have their own opinions. You accept their scorn, because there’s nothing else to do. You must remember to surround yourself with people who love you. Nota bene. Maybe next time around.
Because there will be a next time. Even as you emerge from the water, scathed, harrowed, broken, unsure of the time and marveling in the strangeness of sunshine, you know. The world is a wheel, and this is but a round. You will be here again. This does not stop you from climbing out.
You check your emails. You call your family. You take out the trash and wash the dishes. You build your safety nets and reconnect. Life is too short to let the alligators win every match.
Zach J. Payne is a pre-published YA novelist, poet, thespian, blogger, and general renaissance man. From his home in the California High Desert, he spends most of his time hunched over the computer, writing. Occasionally, he rises to attend college courses, belt show tunes, and tread the boards. He is an alumnus of Ellen Hopkins’s Ventana Sierra program, and a member of SCBWI.