There was a time in the early 2000s where Melissa would go days on end without sleeping. She was working on completing her Master's thesis and teaching for the first time at the college level. The dual pressures took a toll on her, and led her to take larger than recommended dosages of her ADD medicine for a short period. I bring this up, not to embarrass or hurt her memory, but instead as something that has long been on my mind. We wondered if those sleepless weeks in the fall and spring of 2001-02 could have anything to do with the eventual seizures that took her away.
I have been having an incredibly difficult time of it over the past week. The anticipation and let down of the medical report has opened some wounds that I thought were starting to scar over. The lack of anything firm in the report has naturally led to my mind looking for clues in our history. My mind has taken me to that early time in our relationship, where everything was energy and expectation. The stress of being perfect, all of the time, opened the door for her to take Adderall to keep up with her tremendous work load. This is not an indictment or indication of anything illicit. The medicine was prescribed. The temptation for overuse was present with her the same as it is present with all of us. We expect the world of each other and then rush to judgement at the means. I cannot fault her, or anyone, anymore than I can fault the sun from coming up each morning.
The spiral pressures of writing her thesis and having to grade 60+ freshman english papers each week led to massive time constraints. Sleep was the casualty. There were nights when I would wake up at 3 or 4 am and realize that she was not in bed. I would find her instead hunched over the kitchen table furiously at work. She would claim she would be headed right to bed, but would instead power through to get to her 9 am classes. Three to four days in a row like this would lead to one or two day crashes, where she would sleep all day long. As we got older together she would look back on those days and claim that she had lost her mind a little. Her memories of it would come up randomly, whenever we would watch TV or a movie and a writer would over dramatize a hallucination.
I have been watching the USA series "Mr. Robot" over the past couple of weeks. There was a scene in the episode I watched last night where the central character, Elliot, decides to take massive quantities of Adderall to stop a schizophrenic hallucination. The scene made me think of Melissa and those early times. To hear her describe it over the years, this scene must be what she felt. She would describe the incredible feelings of unstoppable energy followed by the 'pixelation' and collapse as she would succumb to exhaustion. Seeing it depicted in this way makes me love her so much, and want to be able to step back in time to help. Being a 22 year old kid, there was no way I could foresee this summer, nor the doubt that creeps in as I wonder if those periods of crushing exhaustion led to this price.
As many of you know, Melissa was a much beloved tutor to several junior and high school students. Her tutoring business started quite by accident. I had a coworker that needed to find a tutor for his daughter, to help her prepare for her college entrance exams and applications. He heard Melly taught at ASU and one thing led to another. Word of mouth from that first tutoring student led her to over 50 other students over the course of about 10 years.
Melissa was incredibly proud of each and everyone of her kids, but equally worried for their life balances. Having gone through her own period of unobtainable academic and professional perfection, I think, made her more sensitive to the importance of downtime. Time to be a kid, away from competing pressures of school and extracurricular work.
Her great fear was that she was helping to create these amazing kids, but that they would become one dimensional in there pursuit of success. Ironically, she was the last person in the world to allow herself the same leeway to relax. To help counteract this potentially one-sided pursuit of academic goals, she always tried to work in time to get to know her students better. She wanted to know what they liked, what they found interesting in the world. Her goal was to create well-rounded and engaging young adults, but I think more than anything she did it because she genuinely cared and wanted to know. These talks with the kids brought her a lot of joy, and in turn made her more interesting. It's why she read "The Hobbit" and why she started watching "Jane, The Virgin". She cared about this stuff because they cared about.
An event like the passing of a loved one will rearrange your priorities. I find myself less interested in the mundane details of life. I care not for going to the store or filing my weekly expense report. At the same time, I catch myself sitting on the back porch each dusk, just watching the grass grow. In its own way I find my own world pixelating toward collapse. My scales have been tilted towards the existential, the same way they were once tilted towards work and pop culture. The problems may be different, in my case a lack of goals, but the end results are the same. Without a balance it is too easy to burn out. Too easy to be one-dimensional.
We are just under three months out. There is a little more clarity in the world, but the lights have not come back up yet. There are glimmers, but I have a feeling it is going to be dark for a while yet. When the world falls down around you if can take a long time to dig out. I've managed to create some breathing space, my own little cave, but I haven't managed to surface. There are too many hidden traps to feel confident. The pendulum that sets the balance is still swinging wildly. There are goods days and bad stretches. I've been stuck in a rough stretch for a little while now, and have to ride it out. Two things will happen, first, the bad will swing back to good, and second, like any pendulum, the amplitude will decrease. The balance will return. It takes time, which is the one thing I have plenty of.